AAK Extends Ethically Sourced Shea Program Supporting Women

Cleveland — AAK AB has extended its Kolo Nafaso shea sourcing program to support the growing demand for ethically produced chocolate confectionery items. The program already reaches 320,000 women in West Africa, representing 8 percent of the global shea industry’s workforce. Ethical claims are the fastest-growing types of claims in the chocolate confectionery and chocolate spreads sectors, according to Mintel Group Ltd.’s  Global New Products Database, having increased by about 70 percent between 2016 and 2020. 

The company explains that shea is a widely used plant-based fat ingredient in chocolate products, where it delivers quality, texture and functionality. AAK is a leading shea supplier that directly sources shea kernels from Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ivory Coast where women predominantly collect the kernels. Within Kolo Nafaso, established in 2009, AAK purchases directly from women’s groups, ranging from 7 to 400 in size, eliminating the need for middlemen. As a result, the women are empowered to invest back into their own communities, the company says, enabling them to build a better livelihood for themselves and their families.  

As in many other places, human and labor rights can be major challenges in West Africa, in particular gender inequality, according to AAK. The company provides support on a grand scale by having a direct relationship, avoiding the need for intermediaries, and maximizing traceability and transparency — resulting in claims that can be carried through to finished products.

Luis Parra, global business director chocolate & confectionery fats, says: “To the best of our knowledge, no other commercial program empowers women on the scale of Kolo Nafaso. Our vision is to continuously improve our collaboration and expand its impact in West Africa. We also hope that our model for sustainable sourcing can be inspirational to many other companies.”

AAK’s Kolo Nafaso programs in Burkina Faso and Ghana achieved a major landmark in 2020, as they were fully verified by Proforest, an external, non-profit organization that promotes responsible production and sourcing of agricultural commodities. In 2021, the full scope of Kolo Nafaso has been verified, including Ivory Coast.

Kolo Nafaso is aligned with AAK’s corporate purpose, Making Better Happen, operating alongside a number of other sustainable shea initiatives taken together with industry partners. AAK recently announced a partnership with Mars, Inc., several leading NGOs and an impact investment fund to establish the 10-year Women in Shea (WISH) initiative. Victoria Mars, chairman of the board for Mars, says: “We hold firm to the belief that our brands’ success must be aligned with the success of the partners and communities we operate with. We are proud to launch together a large-scale shea sourcing initiative in Ghana to bring benefits to women who live in a particularly fragile ecosystem.”

AAK has also formed a sustainable shea partnership with Scandinavian/Northern European confectionery company Cloetta AB. Maria Selling, sustainability manager at Cloetta, says: “The partnership between AAK and Cloetta on responsibly sourced shea is an example of how we can work together to create a long-term positive impact in the shea supply chain. With an improved income, the women are also in a better situation to address poverty, which is so often the root cause of many sustainability problems.”