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.

Are you interested in any topic in particular? Here you find direct links:

  1. German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO)
  2. The cocoa sector and sustainable cocoa cultivation
  3. Germany and cocoa

German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO)

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 cocoa, produced according to sustainability standards.

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.

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.

These goals are further specified in 12 individual objectives to which the members of the forum commit themselves.

GISCO members commit to the work of the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa at all levels. The members advocate for

  1.  improved farm-gate prices, minimum price and premium systems as well as other income-generating measures as contributions to a living income [1] of cocoa farming households.
  2. improving the productivity of cocoa cultivation and the quality of cocoa.

  3. supporting governments and other stakeholders in the development of holistic regional agricultural programs in order to create alternatives to cocoa cultivation and thus counteract overproduction.

  4. promoting the development and use of sustainable and diversified production systems, in particular agroforestry systems, which conserve natural resources as well as ending the application of hazardous [2] and/or unauthorized pesticides.

  5. ending deforestation and contributing to conservation of forests and biodiversity, and to reforestation.

  6. the abolition of worst forms of child labor in cocoa production.

  7. the enhancement of gender equality and improvement of opportunities for women and young people in the cocoa sector.

  8. enforcing compliance with human rights (implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) and environmental aspects by all actors in the cocoa supply chain and contributing to the discussion on possible regulatory measures at EU level.

  9. the strengthening of governments, farmer organizations and civil society in the cocoa value chain in the producing countries.

  10. the entire cocoa in cocoa-containing end products sold in Germany to come from sustainable cultivation in the long term.

  11. a share of at least 85 % of cocoa in cocoa-containing end products sold by the producing members in Germany to be certified by sustainability standards [3] or to be equivalently independently verified by the year 2025.

  12. promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration for more sustainability, networking, sharing information and experience, learning from each other and reporting on progress in achieving objectives and applying best practices.


[1] Living income is “the net annual income required for a household in a particular place to afford a decent standard of living for all members of that household” (The Living Income Community of Practice, 2015).

[2] Hazardous pesticides include as minimum requirement all substances which (1) are listed as “persistent organic pollutants (POPs)” in the Stockholm Convention within the Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention and/or the Montreal Protocol, (2) are classified by WHO as A1 or 1B, (3) are listed in the “Dirty Dozen” of PAN, or (4) are identified by UN-GHS as substances with “chronic toxicity”. In addition, specifically for cocoa cultivation, they include pesticides that are not permitted for use in export goods to EU countries.

Further definition as for agroforestry systems will be included within the KPIs.

[3] Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, UTZ Certified

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 and Germany obtains most of its cocoa (more than 50 %) from Côte d'Ivoire. 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 about cocoa cultivation geared towards sustainability
  • 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.

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.

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

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 a sustainable cocoa sector. 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 cultivation? Here you get to know how it is possible. Here you can find the current list of members.

Any company and any organization interested in supporting the cocoa production according to sustainability standards and the consumption of independently verified 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 for a sustainabale cocoa sector 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 cultivation

Ninety to ninety-five per cent of cocoa worldwide is farmed by smallholders. The average area they farm is two to five 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 international poverty threshold defined by the World Bank (USD 2,15 per person and day). Among the challenges to overcome are:

  • Low Farmgate price
  • 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
  • Deforestation and forest destruction for new cultivated areas
  • 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. With GISCO's help and the participation of its members, previous support measures of various actors are to be networked and coordinated.

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

At its general meeting in May 2019, the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa decided to define sustainable cocoa as follows:

We define sustainable cocoa as cocoa that is produced in accordance with economic, ecological and social requirements, which means that its production is economical, environmentally friendly and socially responsible, without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs.

We are working towards a sustainable cocoa sector by

  • a future-oriented economic action by all actors along the value chain leading to the enablement of a living income for cocoa farmers.
  • preserving natural resources, especially forest resources with their biodiversity.
  • ensuring that human rights are respected along the value chain and, in particular, eliminating the worst forms of child labor.

Germany and cocoa

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.

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.

GLOSSARY cocoa sector