The hidden corporation capturing sustainability: The role of traders in the global cocoa supply chain

Authors: Sophia Carodenuto*, University of Victoria
Topics: Environment, Agricultural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: agriculture, corporation, trade, sustainability
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 12
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Corporations involved in the trade of agriculture commodities such as cocoa are increasingly ‘capturing sustainability’ by developing their own sustainability strategies for their supply chains. This novel approach to regulating environmental and social externalities in global food systems appears to have critical limitations relating to accountability and effectiveness as compared to previous sustainability strategies such as independent certifiers, e.g. Rainforest Alliance, or state-led approaches to regulatory governance. However, these trader-based approaches remain vastly understudied. Drawing on global value chain governance theories related to lead firms and their relationships with suppliers, I analyze the publicly available corporate action plans from the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (n=35), a novel public-private partnership dedicated to eliminating deforestation from the cocoa supply chain in the world’s top cocoa producers Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This systematic comparison of the supply chain changes promised by leading cocoa and chocolate companies provides a baseline for understanding whether and how these commitments differ from previous attempts at reducing deforestation in the supply chain. Using mixed methods, I uncover relationships between the strength or quality of a company’s CFI action plan and company characteristics (e.g. public or private, trader or retailer) with the aim to understand the conditions that enable change towards more sustainable supply chain governance. We find that, contrary to what the literature would suggest, the consumer-facing and high brand value firms are pronouncing less stringent zero-deforestation commitments as compared to their upstream partners.

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