US chocolate maker Hershey's move to buy cheap beans from the New York futures exchange is an attempt to derail plans by Ivory Coast and Ghana to increase farmers' income, the Ivorian cocoa regulator alleged in a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world's top producers, are expected to sell their first full cocoa crop this season under a new scheme that includes a price premium of $400 per tonne, but they have clashed with industry over its implementation.
While Hershey and other chocolate makers support the premium, known as a living income differential (LID), Hershey has also struck a deal to take delivery of as much as 30,000 tonnes of beans through the ICE exchange, which will allow it to avoid paying the LID for those beans.
Yves Kone, head of Ivory Coast's Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC), said in the 18 November letter to the president of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) industry group that the purchase signalled the company's opposition to the LID scheme.
"It is a conspiracy to defeat the concept of the floor price as known, and therefore not to grant a remunerative price to all cocoa producers in our countries," Kone said in the letter.
Hershey said in a statement that it was committed to paying the LID.
'It's important to remember that there's still cocoa in the marketplace that was produced and sold prior to the implementation of the LID. The majority of the cocoa products we buy will continue to come from West Africa and will include the LID for the 2020-21 crop and beyond,' it said.
The WCF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kone urged WCF head Rick Scobey to push companies to respect their engagements and pay the LID.
He warned that Ivory Coast could take measures including publicly shaming companies and suspending sustainability and certification programmes used by companies to assure consumers that beans are ethically sourced.
Last week, Ghana’s cocoa regulator threatened to suspend the sustainability schemes, accusing cocoa and chocolate companies of thwarting government attempts to combat farmer poverty.