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A more sustainable chocolate production: the impact of university research and the need for an ecosystem

One of the keys to a successful sustainable and smart transition is to involve all stakeholders in decision-making and initiatives. This is the subject of our latest Practical Guide booklet (2023), and of several of our team's current research projects. It's also one of the key lessons that Prof. John Dumay drew from his interviews with chocolate companies; interviews conducted as part of his work dedicated to a specific issue: sustainability within the chocolate production chain

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For this blog article, we asked ourselves the following questions: how can the world of research positively influence this issue? How can the involvement of all stakeholders accelerate this transition? To answer these questions, we invite you to immerse yourself in the world of chocolate.

iconeInfoThis article follows a research seminar organized on February 2nd at HEC Liège by Prof. Nathalie Crutzen (Academic Director of the Smart City Institute), during which she was pleased to welcome Prof. John Dumay (Macquarie University, Sydney) for a presentation entitled: "Tackling Sustainability in the Cocoa Supply Chain : A Dialogic Accountability and ecosystem approach".

The Chocolate Scorecard - Chocolate and the SDGs

The chocolate industry accounts for almost 5 million tonnes of cocoa consumed every year. But what happens when we take a closer look at this essential delicacy? From an environmental and societal point of view, its production raises a whole series of questions, directly linked to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) :

  • the traceability of the cocoa used,
  • deforestation,
  • agrochemical management and agroforestry,
  • but also producer remuneration (only 11% of chocolate revenues go back to farmers and their country (via taxes)),
  • and child labor (in Africa, 14,000 million people depend on the chocolate industry, including around 2 million children (aged between 5 and 11)).

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In response, Prof. Dumay explained how university researchers (including himself and colleagues from the Open University and the University of Wollongong) joined forces with NGOs (over 30) and other stakeholders to tackle the issue of sustainability and forced child labor in the cocoa supply chain.

They have developed a range of research, including a particularly edifying comparative list of the practices of multiple companies involved in chocolate production, called the Chocolate Scorecard. The Scorecard analyzes the environmental and social performance of leading companies in the chocolate industry. The team behind this initiative also awards the "Good Egg Award" and the "Rotten Egg Award" each year, highlighting the best and worst performances of these companies.

Chocolate scorecard 1 Chocolate scorecard 2
Screenshot of the "Chocolate Scorecard" dashboard - 

The impact of research

While the Chocolate Scorecard helps to raise awareness and steer consumers towards more sustainable choices, highlighting these practices also encourages managers to question themselves and implement sustainability policies within their companies and governments: proof that the action of certain stakeholders can prove vital and can work towards greater sustainability.

Prof. Dumay explained at the seminar:

The dialogue between companies and researchers has a profound impact. The results of the dashboard are becoming a key performance indicator for those in charge of sustainable development at chocolate companies, and are influencing policy changes. And these mean changes on the ground, in Africa (Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana account for around 60% of the world's cocoa production). Through our work, we indirectly contribute to improving the lives of workers (especially children) whose livelihoods depend on the chocolate supply chain.

Ecosystem dynamics crucial to sustainable production

These dialogues between researchers and companies also give rise to the notion of " dialogic accountability ", a sine qua non emphasized by John Dumay. According to Dumay, the ideal would be to develop an ecosystem involving all players in the chocolate industry, fostering open and meaningful dialogue between the various stakeholders at all levels of the sector, i.e. governments, retailers, producers, traders, shareholders, farmers, consumers, etc.

What are the benefits of this approach? Ensuring transparency and accountability for all players involved, in-depth analysis of each party's potential commitments, and the ability to avoid the perverse effects of certain decisions.

Encouraging beginnings

Nowadays respect for ethical standards and the importance of acting for the well-being of the planet and future generations have become unavoidable issues for companies, but also for public players and the research sphere. The comparative list of best practices drawn up by Professor John Dumay and his colleagues is a further incentive for players in the chocolate industry to take action and make a lasting impact on the world. However, there is still a long way to go, and one way of achieving this is through the ongoing involvement of governments in the introduction of legislation to regulate good practice in the sector. And to achieve this, it is clear that all the chocolate industry players must join forces to ensure that their practices evolve in a global, ethical and fair manner.

About Prof. John Dumay

Prof J Dumay - Medaillon
Professor Dumay is an internationally-recognized academic expert in many diverse areas of sustainability, accounting and control. He teaches at Macquarie University in Australia and is the author of hundreds of scientific articles and a book on publication methodologies. He is also associate editor of several prestigious scientific journals. He has worked for 15 years as a consultant in several industrial sectors and is also the manager of a beer brewery. 


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