Frequently Asked Questions

In the following, we answer the most frequently asked questions about the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO), its work and objectives and the cocoa sector in general.

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  1. German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO)
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German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO)

What is GISCO and who are its members?

The German Federal Government, the German confectionery industry, the German retail grocery trade and civil society joined forces in the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO). As a multi-stakeholder initiative – a joint initiative of different interest groups – GISCO pursues three main objectives:

  1. To improve living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to contribute to a secure living.
  2. To conserve and protect natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.
  3. To increase cultivation and commercialization of sustainably produced cocoa.

The German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa was founded in June 2012 and is a registered association since April 2014. GISCO currently brings together about 70 members. They include companies in the confectionery industry and the retail grocery trade, non-governmental organizations, standard-setting organizations and the German Federal Government, represented by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The initiative welcomes all interested stakeholders. Please contact the GISCO office via for further information.

Here you can find the current list of members.

Why was the initiative established and what are GISCO’s objectives?

Especially in West Africa, cocoa farmers face tremendous challenges. Often, they generate too little income and live below the internationally defined poverty threshold. Abusive forms of child labour, food insecurity and malnutrition, environmentally harmful cultivation methods, lack of investments in cocoa production are counted among the consequences. More and more farmers are switching to other crops or giving up altogether. The GISCO members are keen to improve the living conditions in cocoa production and to achieve living wages for cocoa farmers and their families.

In the view of the confectionery industry and the retail grocery trade, social responsibility starts at the very beginning of the chain – with the farmers. Many cocoa farmers lack the know-how and the resources needed to produce the quality demanded in the marketplace. Many companies therefore already assist cocoa farmers through a range of activities as diverse as the delivery of training and provision of fertilisers and planting material. There has not been a sufficiently coordinated exchange of the effects of these activities among the different actors along the supply chain so far. But it is necessary in order to identify successful practices, to learn from them and to spread them. GISCO aims at changing this: Members exchange experiences and knowledge and strengthen their cooperation in fields in which it is useful. Besides economic and environmental aspects, social issues are pivotal: better living conditions for the cocoa farmers and their families. All goals are addressed in close cooperation with the governments and other relevant actors in the cocoa producing countries.

GISCO pursues three main objectives:

  1. To improve living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to contribute to a secure living.
  2. To conserve and protect natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.
  3. To increase cultivation and commercialization of sustainably produced cocoa.

Find more details about our objectives here.

How does GISCO operate to achieve its goals?

GISCO is a registered association and the GISCO Secretariat is responsible for the coordination of GISCO’s activities. These take place both in Germany and in the cocoa producing countries. Currently, they are mainly focused on Côte d’Ivoire as the leading cocoa producing country. The close cooperation with the respective government on-site and the relevant institutions is important in order to implement the GISCO objectives.

Hallmarks of GISCO’s work are:

  • Developing quality criteria for effective and sustainable project approaches
  • Supporting direct implementation of sustainable cultivation methods
  • Networking and cooperation with already existing initiatives which support sustainable cocoa production
  • Enabling exchange, communication and knowledge transfer
  • Offering services and guidelines in the field of sustainability in cocoa, especially for member companies
  • Informing the public about sustainability approaches, successes and progresses in the cocoa producing regions

Furthermore, GISCO offers dialogue events, seminars and information (i.a. on the website) to interested parties and members and is present at selected fairs.

What has GISCO achieved so far?

Institutionalisation and registration as an association

After GISCO had been founded as a multi-stakeholder initiative in June 2012, the institutionalization and registration as an association in April 2014 was an important step for the further work of the initiative. GISCO’s activities are funded by fixed membership fees and further voluntary contributions.

Development of best practice criteria and evaluation

As a common basis for the joint work in projects, best practice criteria for sustainable cocoa production were developed and assessed by a study. Here you can find an overview of the best practice criteria.

Launch of the project PRO-PLANTEURS

Together with the Ivorian and German government, GISCO launched the project PRO-PLANTEURS mid-2015. Its aim is to professionalize 20,000 cocoa producing family-owned businesses and farmer organizations in Côte d'Ivoire, to increase their incomes and to improve their nutrition and living conditions in general. The focus of the project is on young cocoa farmers and their families as well as on women. Further information on PRO-PLANTEURS is available here.

Supporting the CCE initiative in Côte d’Ivoire

Since 2013, GISCO has been supporting the initiative Certification Capacity Enhancement (CCE). So far, more than 90,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria have received training in good agricultural practices and operational management and have been prepared for a potential certification. Furthermore, the standard-setting organizations Rainforest Alliance Certified, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified support CCE. They have developed standards for sustainable cocoa. Further information is available here. You can find a summary of the CCE Follow-up study here.

More than 70 members have joined forces

Important actors from industry, trade and civil society could be won as GISCO supporters and members (member list). GISCO currently unites more than 70 members and forms a strong coalition for similar objectives of different stakeholder groups. GISCO can increasingly speak with one voice. In this regard, the initiative can better link, coordinate and promote the members’ activities.

What can I do as a consumer to foster sustainable cocoa production?

For instance, you can pay attention to labels for sustainably sourced and produced cocoa, among them Rainforest Alliance Certified™, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified. Apart from the internationally recognized standards for ecologically, socially and economically sustainable production, there are equivalent company-specific programs for sustainable cocoa production.

Our members are dedicated to the cultivation and commercialization of sustainably produced cocoa. You can learn more about the members’ commitment and GISCO’s objectives on our website.

In the section members, you get to know what sustainability in the cocoa sector means to each member and what they do about it. The websites of the cocoa and chocolate companies, the retail grocery trade and the civil society organizations have diverse information about sustainably sourced cocoa on hand. Additionally, consumer hotlines provide respective information.

Further possibilities to promote sustainable cocoa production are:

  • Posing questions to and making demands on companies and organisations, e.g. regarding the source of cocoa in the chocolate;
  • Talking to family and friends about the topic and encouraging them to buy chocolate and chocolate products which provably consist of sustainably produced cocoa.



What proportion of the entire cocoa sector is covered by GISCO and its members?

GISCO’s members cover approximately 80% of the German cocoa, chocolate and confectionery sector. Apart from that, civil society organizations support GISCO’s objectives through their membership.

Is the GISCO logo displayed on member products or how can I recognize GISCO members?

GISCO members do not display the GISCO logo on their products. GISCO is a multi-stakeholder initiative, institutionalized as a registered association. The German confectionery industry, the German retail grocery trade, civil society and the German Federal Government joined forces in GISCO. It is GISCO’s and its members’ aim to bring together different actors and develop joint strategies for more sustainability in the cocoa sector. The aim is not to pursue an own marketing strategy and introduce another label. The GISCO members are dedicated to informing the public about their commitment to sustainably produced cocoa. They do educational work, e.g. through information on the company website, leaflets in supermarkets and other communication channels. Furthermore, GISCO informs about joint activities like the PRO-PLANTEURS project and about general news from the cocoa sector on a regular basis.

Are you a consumer and would like to promote sustainable cocoa production? Here you get to know how it is possible. Here you can find the current list of members.

What are the prerequisites for a GISCO membership?

Any company and any organization interested in supporting sustainable cocoa production and the consumption of sustainably produced cocoa products can become a GISCO member. Earlier activities and experiences in this field do not matter. Thus, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises have the possibility to get involved in the field of “sustainable cocoa” and profit from available know-how and best practices. The members agree with the statutes, the membership fee regulations and GISCO’s objectives.

If your company or your institution is interested in a GISCO membership, please do not hesitate to contact the GISCO office via

The cocoa sector and sustainable cocoa

What are the biggest challenges regarding sustainable cocoa production?

Ninety to ninety-five per cent of cocoa worldwide is farmed by smallholders. The average area they farm is one to three hectares. Especially in West Africa, the main cocoa production region, the working and living conditions of the cocoa farmers and their families are difficult. The income of most cocoa farmers and their families is below the poverty threshold defined by the World Bank. Among the challenges to overcome are:

  • Low yields and productivity of the cocoa trees
  • Cocoa as the only source of income
  • Decreasing numbers of young cocoa farmers and female cocoa farmers, lack of junior employees
  • Poor level of organization of the cocoa farmers and often poor market integration
  • Food insecurity and malnutrition
  • Discrimination of women
  • Child labour, especially abusive forms of child labour
  • Environmentally harmful and outdated practices
  • Unclear land ownership rights
  • Impending yield losses due to climate change

These challenges can only be solved if all stakeholders from industry, trade, politics and civil society act jointly to improve the social, ecological, economic and political framework conditions. GISCO is supposed to link and coordinate existing support measures of different actors.

How does GISCO address the challenges in cocoa production?

GISCO addresses root causes of poverty and related challenges, e.g. by fighting abusive child labour. With the help of the comprehensive and large-scale project PRO-PLANTEURS, GISCO commits itself to improve the situation of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire.

The approach for heading successfully towards a sustainable cocoa sector on a broad basis includes:

  • Systematic training measures for cocoa farmers with a special focus on women and young professionals
  • Disseminating knowledge about good production practices and applying these – “best practice” for sustainability
  • Disseminating business knowledge and skills
  • Establishing organizational structures
  • Development or optimization of traceability systems
  • Reduction of complexity and costs for the implementation of standards
  • Diversifying the sources of income of cocoa smallholders through other crops, commodities and services in order to increase the income from agriculture and to increase food security
  • Accompanying measures to support basic education and to improve health and the nutritional status of cocoa farmers and their families
  • Close cooperation with relevant actors at national and international level

What does “sustainable cocoa“ mean?

There is no universally valid definition of “sustainable cocoa”. The GISCO members define “sustainable cocoa” for their work and for a better understanding of the underlying requirements as follows:

“Sustainable cocoa is cocoa that is produced to economic, environmental and social requirements. This cocoa is either

produced and certified according to internationally recognized sustainability standards such as Rainforest Alliance Certified, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified,


Produced following a method in which the requirements are comparable to one of the above mentioned standards, and which has been verified by an approved method for verification.”

How do GISCO and international sustainability standards work together?

The common internationally recognized organizations which developed sustainability standards for cocoa and other commodities – Rainforest Alliance Certified, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified – are founding members of GISCO and actively involved in GISCO’s work. Thus, the exchange of experiences is promoted and GISCO’s work is supported on an even broader basis.

As part of the initiative Certification Capacity Enhancement (CCE), which has been supported by GISCO since 2013, training material is used which was developed together with the standard-setting organizations.

Germany and cocoa

How important is cocoa for Germany?

The production of chocolate and products containing cocoa and their consumption are of great importance for Germany. The per capita consumption of chocolate products adds up to about 10 kilograms of chocolate per year, which is one of the highest consumption rates worldwide. It is the second largest importer of cocoa after the USA. In Germany, over 10% of the global cocoa harvest is processed into chocolate and other products containing cocoa, such as ice cream and pastries. At the same time, the country is the world’s leading exporter of chocolate and chocolate products. The German economy derives a significant trade surplus from this industry.

Where does the cocoa in German products come from? How important is cocoa to these countries?

Two-thirds of Germany’s raw cocoa demand comes from West Africa, one-third from Latin America and Asia. The most important cocoa producing countries for the German confectionery industry are:

  1. Côte d’Ivoire
  2. Ghana  
  3. Nigeria

(See the info graphic raw cocoa suppliers for Germany of the Association of the German Confectionery Industry (BDSI))

Cocoa is an important export product. Côte d’Ivoire generates one-third of its export revenues from cocoa, Ghana one-quarter. Cocoa is an essential livelihood and source of income for many families. It is all the more important to improve the social, ecological, economic and political framework conditions in these countries. GISCO’s work contributes to this.

Where does cocoa come from?

Cocoa is grown in the tropical and subtropical areas up to approximately 20 degrees North and South of the equator. It needs sufficiently warm and humid climate with high temperatures and abundant rainfalls to grow.

Nowadays, the most important cocoa producing countries are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. Other producing countries are Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.