Speech by Tom de Bruijn at an International Chocolate Day event on responsible business conduct in the cocoa sector

Speech by Tom de Bruijn, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, at an International Chocolate Day event on responsible business conduct in the cocoa sector, jointly organised by Belgium and the Netherlands, 13 September 2021.

Ambassador Abou Dosso,

Ambassador Sena Siaw-Boateng [fon:Senna Sjaw Bowateng]

Mr Assanvo [1] [fon: Aassanvo].

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to today’s event.

Both in my own capacity as Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, and on behalf of Meryame Kitir [2], who will attend the closing of this event virtually.

An event that, in essence, is about one of the world’s most favourite products: chocolate.

Most of us love it, and buy it in large quantities.

So it’s a major trade commodity.

Take my own country, the Netherlands.

We are the world’s biggest importer and processor of cocoa beans, and the fourth-largest exporter of chocolate products.

The global chocolate market is worth more than 100 billion US dollars a year.

It is the backbone of some African economies.

Yet the key commodity used to make chocolate – the beans – is grown by some of the poorest people on our planet…

…in plantations that sometimes hide the worst forms of child labour.

That’s the sad truth about chocolate that many people prefer not to know.

Once you realise that children are producing the chocolate we love…

…that farmers, living in poverty, are not getting the returns they should…

…and that demand for chocolate has led to massive deforestation, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire, which has lost 80 per cent of its forest over the last 50 years…

…then you know that something needs to change.

Luckily, there’s been growing awareness of that in the past few years.

And working practices are starting to change.

For instance, we’re seeing more and more companies that believe ethical chocolate and profits can co-exist.

What’s more, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are now setting up a cocoa partnership, and have introduced a living income differential to increase wages for farmers, many of whom live in poverty. 

This partnership is a true milestone on our shared path towards a decent income for cocoa-producing farmers and their families. 

Belgium and the Netherlands share a commitment to support the joint agenda of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.

My own government is a signatory to the Dutch Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa, a public-private partnership working to improve the livelihoods of current and future cocoa-farming families.

And the Netherlands has joined forces with similar initiatives in the biggest EU markets for cocoa, including in Germany.

And last but not least, we can see stakeholders in the cocoa sector showing true leadership.

Either by actively engaging in the policy debate, or by reserving resources for sustainable investment.

Some of those stakeholders are present here today.

So we’re making progress. Individually and collectively.

But as we all know, we still have work to do.

Governments, businesses and trade organisations alike.

Because only together can we ensure a living income for farming families whose main cash crop is cocoa.

Only together can we end all forms of child labour.

And only together can we put an end to cocoa-related deforestation and forest degradation. 

We need a sustainable cocoa sector in which farming plants is profitable.

One that helps West African economies thrive and provides jobs for young people.

One that offers real business opportunities, and not just a means of survival.

We need a cocoa sector that rewards business models which protect both people and planet.

One that helps companies meet future due-diligence requirements.

And last but not least, one that’s backed by an investment plan for the transition…

…a plan we can all buy into, public and private sector alike, producing and consumer countries – in partnership.

In our policy on responsible business conduct, introduced last year, we propose a smart mix of measures for companies.

They include due-diligence legislation as well as voluntary measures, so we can engage effectively with a diverse range of companies.

From the leaders to the laggards.

And yes, a due-diligence obligation will be most effective if it is formulated at EU level.

Not only because it will create a level playing field and have more impact…

…but also because it helps ensure that businesses across the EU step up and take responsibility for tackling human rights violations and environmental harm.

With that in mind, I very much welcome the Commission’s efforts to introduce due-diligence legislation.

And I urge the Commission to present its proposal soon.

At the same time, the Netherlands is also doing its part at national level.

We’re drafting an ambitious position on the details of due-diligence legislation and will put this at the disposal of our European partners, or if need be, use it as the basis of binding measures in the Netherlands.           

Because, as the world’s biggest importer of cocoa beans, we have to shoulder our responsibility and take action.

Together with Belgium, the Netherlands feels an obligation to pull our weight when it comes to creating sustainable value chains.

But in order to create the right enabling business environment, reduce poverty, and save forests, we also need strategies to transform the cocoa sector in producing countries themselves.

We stand ready to support you, together with our partners: the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Solidaridad, the Dutch Development Bank (FMO) and other development banks we co-fund.

Because we need all of us to make a lasting difference.

To truly create a proven, effective cocoa value chain.

This conference is a wonderful opportunity to share ideas on how to achieve that.

I’m especially interested in your views on how Belgium and the Netherlands – as the EU’s main importing countries –  can further strengthen our partnership with Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

For me, this is an important starting point for today’s discussion.

I look forward to a successful outcome.

Thank you.


[1] Executive Secretary of the Ghana and Ivory Coast Cocoa Initiative.

[2] Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities of the Kingdom of Belgium.