International Cocoa Initiative Calls for Massive Expansion of Effort in Fight Against Child Labor to Reach All Those in Need

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Author Nick Weatherill

Executive Director
International Cocoa Initiative
Photo by International Cocoa Initiative

Child labor in cocoa remains a significant challenge despite extensive efforts to tackle it over the past two decades. While we have made great strides in understanding how to successfully reduce child labor and in implementing activities that have real impact, support currently reaches only a fraction of those in need. At the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), we believe that true sector-wide change will only be possible if we reach 100% coverage of all at-risk children with effective and sustainable systems that prevent and remediate child labor and forced labor.

Estimates suggest that around one in three children living in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (which account for more than 65% of global cocoa production) is involved in child labor. This number is of grave concern and all actors in the cocoa sector have a shared responsibility to help vulnerable children access their basic rights. We also know that forced labor is a risk faced by the cocoa sector (albeit at a different, more localized and limited scale) and there are increasing calls on the sector to address it. In the ICI 2021 – 2026 Strategy that we are launching today, we focus on tackling both of these critical issues to help cocoa-growing communities thrive within a dignified, sustainable and responsibly-managed cocoa supply chain.

Lessons learned

ICI has been working in cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for 13 years. Within that time, with our partners from industry, government and civil society, we have helped advance measurable progress in the fight against child labor in cocoa.

Birago, Schadrach, Richard, Emma…the names of just a few of the 380,000 children whose lives were impacted by our direct actions between 2015 and 2019. Our community development work led to a 20-30% reduction in child labor in communities we assisted, and our Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), where community facilitators raise awareness and identify cases of child labor so that targeted prevention and remediation can be provided, can lead to a drop in child labor of 50% among identified children.

These are significant achievements that we and our partners are proud of. These successes have shown us what is possible, and I am convinced we are on the right track, but there is still much to be done. Through our new Strategy we will now build on what we have achieved to reach all those in need.

Looking to the future: 100% coverage

Currently, we estimate that only 10-20 % of cocoa-growing communities are covered by community or supply-chain monitoring and remediation approaches specifically designed, and proven, to reduce child labor. These urgently need to be scaled up to cover all those at risk.

This is a daunting challenge, but I am inspired by the fact that ICI’s multi-stakeholder membership and partnership network, bringing together the cocoa and chocolate industry, civil society, farming communities, governments, international organizations and donors, has agreed on this collective vision for the sector.

I am further encouraged by recent trends that we believe will energize the required scale up. For example, the strong focus within the Sustainable Development Goals on child labor and forced labor (SDG 8.7) as well as on multi-stakeholder action (SDG 17.16 and 17.17) is helping to  galvanize attention and support from many stakeholders to confront this complex challenge. In addition, in many cocoa-consuming countries human rights due diligence regulations are being developed and applied, requiring companies to “assess and address” negative human rights impacts in their supply chains, including those linked to child and forced labor. Many of our partners have already come out in support of stricter due diligence regulations, recognizing that they will help to level the playing field and drive a more comprehensive, transparent and accountable effort.

Laying the foundations for sector-wide impact

Within our new strategy we highlight three pillars that must be in place if we are to reach all children and adults at risk of child labor and forced labor in the cocoa-growing communities of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

  • Firstly, we need fully responsible supply chains. This means implementing systems and services that responsibly and transparently prevent and remediate child labor and forced labor across the entire cocoa supply chain.
  • Secondly, we need a supportive enabling environment. This means national and international policies that inspire, motivate and obligate progress, from due diligence legislation in cocoa consuming countries, to policies that continue to advance access to quality education and social protection in cocoa-producing countries.
  • And finally, we need coordinated approaches. This means that all the many actors who have a critical role to play in helping cocoa-growing communities to thrive, including the cocoa and chocolate industry, civil society, governments and donors, must all work together within a coherent and coordinated system to maximise impact.

Vision to reality – ICI as a catalyst

Between now and 2025, we aim to positively impact the lives of 1.7 million children living in cocoa-growing areas. We will achieve 25% of the full supply chain coverage required through direct, collaborative action with our members and partners. ICI’s influencing efforts will push for the remaining 75% of the full coverage goal, to be committed to and delivered by every player in the cocoa sector. To make this a reality, we will focus our energy in three areas:

  • Innovation and learning: ICI will continue to trial and evaluate new ways of tackling child and forced labor and will conduct research on root causes, effective policies and promising
  • Technical advocacy: ICI will promote the knowledge and learning it generates, engaging in the development of policies and standards, supporting all stakeholders to align their actions for a more coordinated approach and mobilizing resources to unlock investments required for the scale up of effective solutions.
  • Capacity and systems strengthening: ICI will provide time-limited operational support to its members and partners to set-up child labor and forced labor prevention and remediation mechanisms that can eventually be sustained without ICI’s support, strengthening national, corporate, civil society and community systems and helping them work together.

ICI’s 2021-2026 Strategy offers a collective vision for transformational progress. It provides a roadmap for advancing sustainability, for safeguarding human rights, for protecting children and for tackling child labor and forced labor in the cocoa sector at an unprecedented scale. The fulfillment of this vision will depend on an expansion of effort and investment from all parties that is similarly unprecedented, but that can be achieved if we build on our experiences and results to-date, on the existing energy for collective, multi-stakeholder action, and on a shared commitment to put the interests of cocoa farmers and their children first. ICI’s unique position in the cocoa sector as a multi-stakeholder catalyst for change is primed to bring this vision to life.

This blog post was originally published by ICI.