Long before it hits supermarket shelves, cocoa passes through dozens, if not hundreds, of hands—many of which belong to the laborers that harvest and hack the beans from their large, leathery pods.

For years, members of the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)—the world’s leading producer of this product—have been partnering with Fairtrade International, a nonprofit organization focused on enacting sustainable economic, environmental, and social standards on trade products in developing countries. However, while Fairtrade certification boosts income and reduces poverty among the employees of the country’s large cocoa cooperatives, the same doesn’t hold true for workers on the farms who, quite literally, bring these organizations’ products to fruition.

The findings, reported in an economic analysis published today in the journal Nature Sustainability, reaffirm the existence of longstanding disparities in the cocoa pipeline.

“This paper is a very welcome addition…and a really nice piece of work,” says Mark Lundy, the Sustainable Food Systems Theme Lead at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), who was not involved in the study. “One of the major gaps in any study looking at the impacts of Fairtrade is that they typically focus only on farmers, and ignore other key players…but this really shines a light on some of the limitations of [sustainability] certification as a way to drive broader social change.”

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