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updated: 4/23/2013 1:22 PM

Chocolatier Mondelez to aid women farmers amid criticism

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Bloomberg News

Mondelez International Inc., the world's biggest chocolatier, has agreed to work to improve the well-being of women cocoa farmers after an Oxfam International report detailed corporate shortcomings in human rights and sustainability.

Mondelez is the third company in the past two months to pledge to assess the conditions of women in its supply chain and address gender inequality since an Oxfam campaign rated 10 food companies on their policies. The Deerfield, -based company, spun off from Kraft Foods Inc. last year, joins Nestle SA and Mars Inc. in adjusting its practices since the Oxfam report. The three companies together control 42 percent of the world chocolate market.

"An increased involvement of women in the supply base leads to improved financial management by farmers, better education for youth and more sustainable, thriving communities," Christine McGrath, vice president of external affairs and cocoa life at Mondelez, said in a statement.

Greater corporate concern for human rights, endorsed by the United Nations in 2011, has been urged by advocacy groups as businesses expand operations in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions. Companies including ConAgra Foods Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc have joined initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and created certifications such as Fair Trade to monitor business practices and encourage improvements.

Failing Grades

Oxfam, a humanitarian advocacy group, gave major food businesses including Associated British Foods Plc and Kellogg Co. failing grades in a report in February examining corporate policies in seven areas: the land rights of small farmers; exploitation of women, farmers and workers; climate change; business transparency; and water use. Companies were rated on a scale of 1 to 10.

Nestle, which had the highest overall score of 38 out of a possible 70 in the study, scored 4 on women's issues, while Mars, fifth overall, received a 1. Mondelez scored 2 on women and placed sixth overall. None of the 10 companies profiled at the time knew or were trying to find out how many women farmers are involved in their supply chains or what kind of farming activities they are engaged in, Oxfam said.

UN Principles

As part of its efforts to improve the fortunes of women farmers, Mondelez will sign the UN Women Empowerment Principles by the end of this week, the company said. It is the first of the three major chocolate producers to sign the UN document, which outlines ways to help women in workplaces, markets and communities.

The 10 businesses studied in Oxfam's study are among the top producers in the global food-and-beverage industry, which Istanbul-based consultancy IMAP Inc. values at almost $7 trillion. Nestle, the world's largest food company, last year had revenues of $92.2 billion.

Cocoa, grown largely in West Africa, rose to a four-month high today in trading on ICE Futures U.S. in New York on speculation that the region's selling will slow and supplies may shrink. The price reached $2,355, the highest for a most-active contract since Dec. 21, and was $2,325 a ton, up 0.6 percent, at 11:06 a.m. The price had risen 3.3 percent this year through yesterday.

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