This year's World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Partnership Meeting will certainly have a different look and feel to it compared with previous ones, but it comes at a crucial time for the industry as it struggles with COVID-19 and a myriad of sustainability issues.
Instead of convening in Bogota, Colombia, the event has moved online – and is the only major cocoa industry meeting taking place in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the industry’s events calendar.
Register now to join the World Cocoa Foundation 2020 Partnership Meeting online. Participants will gather on a user-friendly platform, with networking opportunities available all next week. The suite of streaming, networking, and engagement tools are available before and after the event.
The WCF took the decision to create an online event in a bid to keep the conversation flowing, bringing senior stakeholders together to thrash out solutions to many of the issues that continue to vex the cocoa industry such as child labour, farmer poverty and deforestation.
Alex Ferguson, Vice President for Communications and Membership at the WCF, is the man overseeing this year’s online event, along with colleagues Charlotte Grant (Communications & Marketing Manager) and Zoë Genova (Senior Communications & Membership Associate).
We felt we really wanted to do it because we feel that basically the sustainability agenda can't wait, and we shouldn't be delaying it because of current problems of people travelling and getting together -- Alex Ferguson, Vice President for Communications and Membership at the WCF
“We originally had a Partnership Meeting plan for Bogota, which we were very excited about because we felt that Colombia has a very interesting story to tell on cocoa and it's a great opportunity to disseminate some of those lessons, then when COVID came, we had to take a decision very quickly whether to go with something else or cancel it,” Ferguson tells ConfectioneryNews.
“We felt we really wanted to do it because we feel that basically the sustainability agenda can't wait, and we shouldn't be delaying it because of current problems of people travelling and getting together.
“With Charlotte’s leadership, we switched to quickly working out how we could put on an online event, which is a quite an undertaking if you want to do it professionally as it requires getting the right people and a dedicated platform to host the event on.”
‘Scaling Impact in Disruptive Times’
Not only will this year’s Partnership Meeting have a full two-day agenda under the banner: ‘Scaling Impact in Disruptive Times’, it will also allow online attendees access to, and network with, high-level speakers from the EU Commission, international governments as well as senior people from finance, civil societies NGOs and chcocolate companies.
“In many ways it replicates what the face-to-face meeting does,” says Ferguson.
Ferguson joined the WCF 18 months ago from The World Bank. His first Partnership Meeting was in Berlin last year – and a lot has changed since then.
“I've enjoyed it immensely … the people at WCF are a wonderful team of very dedicated people and what’s really impressed me in the time I’ve been here is that while one has to be humble with looking at the cocoa supply chain and realising that it's a very complex supply chain with a lot of issues – there are some very dedicated and hard-working people trying to address those issues, and are really trying to think how to make the supply chain sustainable,” he says.
“The other thing, too, which impresses me about WCF, is the way that it works across a great span of different stakeholders and is able to bring everybody together - and I think the Partnership Meeting is testament to that.”
Ferguson says this year's theme of ‘Scaling Impact in Disruptive Times’ is a clarion call to the industry that sustainability can’t wait – and it’s important now more than ever to drive commitment to it.
“We don't know how COVID-19 was started or how it really developed but many people have commented that it shows the danger of man's destruction of nature and his encroachment on it … we've had a very significant year for sustainability in cocoa,” says Ferguson.
On the one hand, there has been significant progress on deforestation, with many of the big companies announcing they are exclusively sourcing 100% sustainable cocoa for their chocolates; on the other, there has been a failing to totally eradicate child labour from supply chains, as referenced by the recent NORC report, and farmer income levels, particularly in West Africa, remain a source of embarrassment for the industry that charges top dollar for its luxury products.
“As with the Berlin meeting last year, we will be looking at key areas in human rights, enabling the environment and also the whole issue of living income,” says Ferguson.
The WCF recognises that many of its members are facing difficult times because of the COVID-19 crisis, but it remains resolute in trying to drive the agenda forward and advising them on best practice for a sustainable future.
For any type of conference the agenda is ambitious, but it is testament to the WCF’s clout in the industry that is can pull together more than 60 expert speakers and 25 sessions for an online event where several sessions will have live translation in English, French, and Spanish for its global audience.
Ferguson (and his team) says that response from the public, its partners and key sponsors such as Mondelēz International has been fantastic.
“One of the advantages of doing this online is that people do not have to travel for days to an event and you can actually convene more easily. In some ways, it’s a lower barrier to getting some of the fantastic speakers that we've got because they can access it relatively easily,” says Ferguson.
At the end of the two days, Ferguson hopes that when delegates close their laptops, they will have advanced the sustainability agenda and go away refreshed and energised and ready to address the problems that have been raised this year by the WCF.
- See the WCF Partnership Agenda in full here.