The Unilever Global Development Award: Mondelez International

Award Type: 

  • 92,000 farmers have increased productivity
  • 37% increase in cocoa yields
  • $400m investment to 2022

An innovative programme to help cocoa farmers and their communities become more profitable and sustainable.


There are a few corporate sustainability programmes that really stand out for their boldness, their vision and their ambition. Cocoa Life is one such programme – and it has won Mondelēz International the Unilever Global Development category at the Responsible Business Awards.

One of the world’s biggests snacks business, with brands including Oreo, belVita, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Milka chocolate, it is a company reliant on a healthy and sustainabile supply of cocoa to make its products. Cocoa Life is Mondelēz’s approach to empowering cocoa farmers in its supply chain to help them grow, thrive and survive so that it can ensure the future of chocolate for generations to come.

The programme aims to transform the livelihoods and living conditions of more than 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million people in cocoa-farming communities between now and 2022. The company is investing $400m and will work in partnership with those on the ground in Ghana, Indonesia, Cote d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, India and Brazil.

This is important because cocoa supply is under pressure and being constrained by a range of complex and technical environmental and social issues. Most farms operate at a cash subsistence level because of low crop yields, low farmer incomes and poor community development. This means that young people are increasingly turning their backs on cocoa farming.

Too many cocoa farmers are trapped in a cycle where they make just enough money – a situation that is fueling the use of child labour to make ends meet. Then, there is huge gender inequality, with many communities failing to harnessing the skill and potential of women.

“For many businesses today, sustainable farming is essential to success, not a nice to have,” says Glenn Caton, president of Mondelēz International in Northern Europe. “It means we need to be more ambitious in terms of impact and scale – and create a real step-change in our relationships with farmers, moving away from being a buyer to becoming an integral partner.”

Caton says has is delighted with the results of Cocoa Life so far. The programme has already helped 92,000 farmers increase their productivity, tripling their incomes since 2009 and boosting yields of cocoa by 37%. Almost 35,000 farmers have received training in how to apply good environmental practices, with more than 815,000 economic shade trees distributed.

In Ghana, a Harvard University study shows that farmers’ incomes in the first 100 communities that signed up to Cocoa Life increased from 1,000 to 3,000 Ghanaian Cedi between 2008 and 2014. This was 49% more than experienced by farms outside the programme.

The company is also working on a three-year project with the University of Reading to map cocoa productivity. It will look at around 300 farms across West Africa and Indonesia and use the data to generate farm-specific recommendations to improve the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of interventions.

Meanwhile, the initiative recognises women as producers, providing better access to credit and training. More than 170 volunteers have formed women’s groups in 209 cocoa-producing communities and 46,000 people have been trained on gender awareness issues.

Elsewhere, more than 1,200 savings and loans schemes have been established, benefiting 22,300 community members, of which 80% are women.

The business recognises that Cocoa Life is an absolute must, rather than a nice-to-have. Mondelēz continues to buy a huge amount of cocoa and without it, there is no chocolate. Cocoa Life has helped to embed sustainability throughout the company’s supply chain, helping it to become integral to its operations and culture. “Not many companies have a programme on the ground of the size and scale of Cocoa Life, with so many other experts and well respected NGOs involved,” says Michael Gidney, CEO of Fairtrade Foundation.