Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19

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Africa is the largest cocoa producing region in the world. Jo Thys, VP Cocoa Africa at Barry Callebaut, explains how he and his team ensured the continued sourcing and processing of cocoa, whilst prioritizing the safety of employees and following the precautionary measures introduced by the government.

Jo, can you describe what business continuity looks like in Africa during COVID-19? What were your first priorities?

Our first consideration was the safety of our people, and we had to address this in a rapidly changing situation. Our care also extended beyond our own employees, to outsourced services, such as our security teams and workers from trucking companies who deliver for us.

Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand Spur
Jo Thys, VP Cocoa Africa at Barry Callebaut

Alternative working arrangements, such as home office, meant ensuring that all those who had to suddenly work from home, could do so. To address this we needed to procure adequate resources such as laptops, smartphones and data bundles for our people to enable a smooth transition from the workplace to the home office.

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Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand Spur

The response from government directives on COVID-19 differed across countries in Region Africa. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, there was a curfew commencing at 9 pm and ending at 5 am, so we had to address the big question – how do we keep sites and factories running as normal? The first step was to reconstitute the shifts to work around the curfew. So our shift and factory colleagues worked together to organize a totally different shift structure, two shifts of twelve hours, without any impact on the output of the factory.

You mention the immediate challenges, were there examples of creative issue management measures you put into place?

In terms of social distancing, it is relatively easy to do this on-site, but public transport in Africa, typically buses, are exceptionally packed. So you can imagine that it is more of a complex problem to maintain social distancing. Therefore we decided to rent buses to specifically pick up our people to take them to and from their homes to sites in a safe way.

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In Ghana, cities such as Accra, Tema and Kumasi were locked down, and we had the situation where key workers, such as our QA colleagues, could not travel from their homes in Accra to Tema. To address this, we took the decision to rent an entire guest house, near our factory in Tema to allow our people to stay there safely. Some of our colleagues have been living there for over 3 weeks now.

What is the situation with cocoa sourcing and the delivery of cocoa – is it ‘business as usual’? 

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In terms of cocoa farming, cocoa has not stopped growing, despite COVID-19.  So the cocoa is indeed still flowing and we are still purchasing. Our common aim, however, is to support farmer livelihoods and communities, and second, continuing our sourcing business as usual, without contaminating up-country operations.

In general, there is less traffic passing through cocoa-growing communities. Less traffic means there is less cash being injected, restaurants and shops are not open. So our teams on the ground have been working very hard to support farmer communities in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania. For example, we have been buying locally made soap from communities which have provided additional income to farming communities, we have donated hand washing equipment, protective masks, sanitizer kits and partner with our customers and local government on sensitization activities of COVID-19 preventive measures and hygiene activities.

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We have also distributed food parcels to needy families, and this includes families in the communities in which we work and live. In Ghana, for example, we donated food parcels to support around 500 families living near our factory.

Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand Spur

Has there been any silver linings during COVID-19?

What I felt during this period was the entire Region Africa team coming closer together. Our people are really passionate about supporting the operations during COVID-19, of adapting to how they work, adjusting to different shift patterns or staying in alternative accommodation close to our sites.

The creativity and ingenuity of our people have also shone at this time. The additional washing facilities at our sites, these were hand made. I also saw how communications evolved during this time. As the situation unfolded, communication was critical to informing our people and for maintaining business continuity. Our issue teams who met every day discovered that actually the best way to communicate was not via email or notice boards in our sites, but by creating team Google Hangout groups or via text messaging to keep everyone up to date on a timely basis.

We also had a visit from one of the medical officers who is a member of the advisory team working with the Ghanaian government on COVID-19 situation. She reviewed the interventions that we had put in place to support our people and the feedback that we received was that they were so impressed with what we had done – that we could transport our people, provide accommodation to our people, to keep them safe. This is something we can be very proud of.

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Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand SpurCocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand Spur

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Latest News

Singapore Employees Lack Retirement Support From Companies While Financial Wellbeing Becomes a Top Priority: Aon Survey

SINGAPORE - Media OutReach - 14 April 2021 - Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has released the findings of the 2021 Trends in Retirement & Financial Wellbeing survey for Singapore.


Working adults in Singapore ranked retirement planning as their top priority but an alarming 80% underestimate how much they really need to retire. While retirement support from employers is also lacking, further challenges remain around transparency in group retirement plans' investment offerings and employees foregoing long-term perspectives to seek short-term gains.


Ashley Palmer, Regional Managing Partner, Retirement & Investments, Asia for Aon, said, ""Employers can have a significant impact on how much their employees save by instilling smart habits and healthy money behaviours. The right long-term savings vehicles, effective communications and financial tools will help Singapore's workforce be more financially resilient in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic."


The survey identifies three main themes in financial wellbeing and retirement support for Singapore employees.


Financial wellbeing support is the new employee expectation. As a result, close to 40% of employers rank an employee financial wellbeing strategy as their highest priority, followed by emotional and mental wellbeing support. The survey shows that 70% of Singapore employers will formulate or execute financial wellbeing programmes throughout 2021, in line with employee expectations. Companies also view offering a financial wellbeing programme critical in increasing employee engagement and remaining competitive in the talent market.


There is an increasing trend of employer-led supplementary savings plans. Currently, 22% of companies surveyed offer Central Provident Fund (CPF) top-up contributions to citizens and Permanent Residents. But, close to 40% of the working population in Singapore are foreigners who do not have access to CPF and are likely to have foregone their retirement benefits in their home countries. To bridge this gap, and to provide equitable retirement benefits to all employee groups, close to 50% of the organisations surveyed offer supplementary retirement benefits to their foreign staff. Financial services firms are leading in this practice, followed by the technology and the healthcare sectors.


Promisingly, a third of organisations in Singapore are prioritising a thorough review of their supplementary retirement arrangements in 2021.


Alicia Brittain, Senior Consultant & Actuary, Retirement & Investments, Singapore for Aon, said, "Forward-looking companies first need to understand the financial worries of their employees and identify the gaps in their benefits offering. The most effective approaches are aimed at changing individual behaviours towards money and savings and providing accessible programmes and vehicles to deliver sustainable change. For example, when organisations provide retirement benefits as cash-in-lieu, it is most likely immediately spent and so does not form part of an emergency fund or long-term savings for the employees' retirement years. Supplementary retirement plans solve this issue and are more flexible and cost effective - and can also offer contributions above the monthly CPF wage cap to increase employee savings."


Employees in Singapore lack a well-defined default investment strategy. Less than 30% of the surveyed companies in Singapore currently offer their employees an investment choice in their retirement plans, and only 15% of retirement plans have a default investment fund. This leads to employees selecting their own optimal investment funds. They may lack experience in understanding investments, which can lead to misallocating their money and result in inadequate retirement savings or excessive risk taking.


Brittain added, "The key to protecting employees and adding value to savings in any defined contribution retirement plan is a well-defined default investment strategy. This includes frequent performance monitoring, actively managing investment risks and dynamically reducing investment risk as employees move towards retirement."


Notes to Editors

The Aon 2021 Trends in Retirement & Financial Wellbeing for Singapore survey was designed to help organisations understand the unique retirement and financial needs of their Singapore workforce. This tri-annual survey was completed by organisations with employee populations ranging from five to over 4,000 and are based in Singapore. Responding Rewards and Benefits Leaders, HR and Finance Professionals provided feedback and insight on their organisations' financial wellbeing and retirement programmes, interests and concerns. Click here for the full report.

About Aon

Aon plc (NYSE: AON) is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions. Our 50,000 colleagues in 120 countries empower results for clients by using proprietary data and analytics to deliver insights that reduce volatility and improve performance.

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Cocoa sourcing and processing in Africa during times of COVID-19 - Brand Spur
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