Child Labor Has No Place in the Cocoa Supply Chain

Author Richard Scobey

President
World Cocoa Foundation

The cocoa and chocolate industry believes that every child needs a safe and conducive environment to grow and thrive. Child labor has no place in our supply chain. We are committed to eliminating child labor and addressing its root causes – and have spent more than $150 million since 2001 to strengthen the protection of children. We have seen progress on the ground, with a 50% reduction in child labor where we have worked with communities to implement child labor monitoring and remediation systems.    

Tackling the Complex Drivers of Child Labor

Child labor is a widespread and challenging issue in African agriculture, as documented by the International Labor Organization. An estimated 2.1 million children work on family cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.   

As reviewed in a recent report by UNICEF, child labor in the cocoa sector arises from a variety of complex factors. Over 99% of all children working on cocoa farms in West Africa do so within their immediate or extended families, on family farms that average only a few hectares in size. Many of these households live below the poverty line and have few labor alternatives other than their own children, particularly during the harvest season. Limited access to schools, persistent cultural practices, lack of community awareness about the dangers of child labor, and gender inequalities also play a role.  

Forced labor and human trafficking are extremely rare in the cocoa industry, according to published reports. The industry has zero tolerance for forced labor and human trafficking, which are contrary to the laws of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the conventions of the International Labor Organization, and fundamental human rights. If we find any evidence of it, we immediately report it to appropriate authorities. 

Under the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol, and the subsequent 2010 Framework of Action, the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, in partnership with the United States Department of Labor and some large chocolate and cocoa companies, jointly committed to reducing the worst forms of child labor in cocoa-growing areas.   

The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), established under the Protocol, works with the industry, governments, NGOs and other development partners to improve the lives of children in cocoa-growing communities and eliminate child labor. It supports the acceleration and scale-up of child-centered community development and responsible supply-chain management. 

Progress on the Ground

The industry and governments have made important progress to reduce the worst forms of child labor since the HarkinEngel Protocol came into effect in 2001. The industry has invested more than $150 million to address the root causes of child labor and strengthen protection of children’s rights, focused on the following priority actions: 

  • Awareness raising, including sensitizing all parents and children to the dangers of child labor and the long-term negative impact it can have on children’s development.
  • Child labor monitoring and remediation, including setting up community-level Child Protection Committees of trained volunteers, identifying vulnerable children at risk, and remediating identified cases of child labor with the support of local and regional authorities and partner organizations.  More than 220,000 farming households are now covered, with expansion ongoing. ICI analysis confirms that child labor has been reduced by 51% over a three-year period in their programs.
  • Access to quality education, including promoting school enrollment and attendance, helping families to secure birth certificates for their schoolage children, and contributing to educational infrastructure, equipment, and materials in communities where facilities are inadequate. 
  • Women’s empowerment, including strengthening women’s financial independence and decision-making power, which leads to families prioritizing children’s education and well-being. 
  • Improved livelihoods, through increased agricultural productivity, new and diversified income generating activities, expanded financial tools and services, capacity building of farmer organizations, and provision of premium payments for sustainably grown cocoa. 

Scaling Up Impact

We are proud of the significant progress we have made – but we know more needs to be done.   

The cocoa and chocolate industry is accelerating collaboration and investment to help West African governments ensure that children in cocoa-growing communities are safe, learning and succeeding, and are specifically not working in conditions that jeopardize their health, welfare and developmentTackling poverty and strengthening communities are the critical longterm solutions. In the short-term, effective monitoring and remediation systems are being scaled up to cover more households and communities at risk. 

Ending child labor is a shared responsibility among all stakeholders in the cocoa supply chainCompanies and producing governments are stepping up – we urge governments of cocoa consuming countries, international development partners, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to join us and support long-term solutions to safeguard a bright future for West African children.