US confectionery giant Hershey has defended itself after West African countries Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire cancelled cocoa sustainable schemes run by the company, Just Food reported on 2 December.

The company was responding to accusations that it had tried to avoid paying a cocoa premium aimed at combating farmer poverty.

However, in a statement sent to Just Food, Hershey accused the countries of putting out a "misleading statement".

The two countries, which are the world’s main cocoa producers, introduced a "living income differential" (LID) in July on all cocoa sales for the 2020/21 season.

In November, the same countries accused some in the chocolate industry of a “ploy to derail” government attempts to improve farmers’ income and threatened to suspend schemes to assure consumers the beans they used in their products were ethically sourced.

In the latest move, the Ivorian and Ghanaian cocoa regulators – the Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC) and the Ghanaian Cocoa Board (Cocobod) respectively – had written to the company accusing it of sourcing unusually large volumes of physical cocoa on the ICE futures exchange in order to avoid the LID premium.

They said they were now barring third-party companies from running sustainability schemes in their countries on behalf of Hershey.

In its statement to Just Food, Hershey was reported as saying: "It is unfortunate that Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have elected to distribute a misleading statement....and jeopardise such critical programmes that directly benefit cocoa farmers.

“As we have consistently stated, here at Hershey we understand and share the same goals - to improve cocoa farmer livelihoods and ensure a long-term sustainable cocoa supply."

On its website, Hershey rejected claims it was trying to avoid paying the LID premium.

"We are fully participating in the LID for cocoa purchases already made from the 2020/2021 crop as we buy a substantial supply sourced from West Africa. And we will continue to participate in the LID to support cocoa farmer livelihoods going forward,” the statement said.

The company told Just Food it had been buying cocoa from other origins around the world as part of its particular bean blend, adding it would continue to do so.

"This long-time practice of sourcing cocoa from around the world should not be conflated with avoiding paying the LID,” it added.

Based on “current trends”, the company said it expected cocoa purchases in 2021 from West Africa would be comparable with 2020 purchases.

“The letter that the Ivorian CCC and the Ghanaian Cocobod issued said we are 'intent to avoid paying the LID'. That is simply not true," Hershey said in its letter to Just Food.

Following the move to ban the company’s sustainability programmes being run in the two countries, Hershey said such schemes were needed to “positively impact cocoa-growing communities”.

On its website, the company said it remained “ready, willing and able” to continue these programmes such as child labour monitoring and remediation, farmer training, environmental protection and childhood nutritional supplements.

“Our concern is that by cutting off industry sustainability programmes, cocoa farmers will be negatively impacted as they will no longer receive the benefits provided by our on-the-ground programmes, as well as the price premium for certified cocoa.”