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Benchmarking self-declared social sustainability initiatives in cocoa sourcing

Sumit Kishore Lalwani (Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Breno Nunes (Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Daniel Chicksand (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Dev Kumar (Roshan) Boojihawon (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

Benchmarking: An International Journal

ISSN: 1463-5771

Article publication date: 29 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to examine the self-declared sustainability initiatives of the world’s four largest chocolate manufacturers (Ferrero, Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé) and the measures they take to tackle social problems within the context of establishing sustainable sourcing of cocoa in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Global cocoa supply chains are under continuous media and public scrutiny. Recent incidents of malpractice in supply chain management have left global chocolatiers vulnerable in terms of how they deal with social issues across their global supply chain networks. Critics have argued that there is a lack of consistency and transparency between what companies say and do in upholding sustainable practices across their supply chains.


The authors draw from the sustainable supply chain literature to develop our theoretical parameters and undertake a case-based analysis of the existing sustainability practices of these chocolatiers. Using the insights from this analysis, the authors propose a conceptual framework for a rigorous comparative assessment of self-declared sustainable sourcing initiatives of global agricultural supply chains. The methodology is qualitative and the research method is a secondary-data case study.


Four main parameters were identified and used to compare self-declared initiatives, namely: social sustainability certification from respectable bodies; code of conduct for suppliers; partnerships with the primary supply chain stakeholders; and supplier collaboration programme and improvement initiatives. The case companies chosen have implemented several initiatives, but the most prominent seem to indicate the reliance on third-party certification. Not all companies adopted a supplier code of conduct. The partnerships and collaboration programmes with different associations are presented as efficient for companies as well as farmers. Improvements in the conditions of farmers are advocated as a key result.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is based on self-declared secondary data. Subsequently, it is possible that the case companies did not document some practices; or that companies do not do what they claim.

Practical implications

This paper provides a comprehensive framework for agricultural businesses to compare their sustainability efforts and improve the performance of their supply chains, particularly those who belong to the cocoa supply chains. The proposed framework allows an assessment of initiatives at policy, strategic, tactical and operational levels to improve social sustainability of supply chains.

Social implications

This paper may help companies to think more clearly about greater transparency and provide the impetus for dealing more effectively with serious social issues in agricultural supply chains such as: child labour, child trafficking, modern slavery, etc. It may also instruct consumers to better understand what companies do as part of their sustainability agenda, alongside the communication of other features of their products, such as quality.


The framework adds value by providing a novel way to systematically compile and analyse data around self-declared sustainable initiatives. Actors within agricultural supply chains can use the framework to assess and drive their sustainability efforts and practices, leading to ways to improve the social performance of their global supply chains.



Lalwani, S.K., Nunes, B., Chicksand, D. and Boojihawon, D.K.(R). (2018), "Benchmarking self-declared social sustainability initiatives in cocoa sourcing", Benchmarking: An International Journal, Vol. 25 No. 9, pp. 3986-4008.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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