We Have Zero Tolerance for Forced Labor in the Cocoa Supply Chain

Author Richard Scobey

President
World Cocoa Foundation

Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery a powerful reminder that slavery is not a thing of the past. The International Labour Organization estimated that some 40 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016, including 25 million people in forced labor and 15 million people in forced marriage. There are slaves working on every continent, in all types of industries, and in people’s homes. Even in the United States, the 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 400,000 people living in modern slavery in the “land of the free.” A recent public television documentary told a chilling story of trafficked children from Guatemala on egg farms in Ohio.

Forced labor in agriculture has been a persistent global problem. The U.S. Department of Labor 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor flags forced labor risk in peanuts from Bolivia, sugarcane from Brazil, sesame from Burma, tomatoes from Mexico, cotton from Pakistan, fish from Thailand, cotton from Uzbekistan, and cocoa from West Africa.

The cocoa and chocolate industry has been very focused on addressing human rights issues in cocoa production in West Africa, particularly the problem of child labor. Child labor, usually defined as work that harms a child, is caused by poverty. Two thirds of the world’s cocoa is grown by 1.6 million farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Most of these farmers are too poor to hire workers so their children do this work. Also playing a role are a limited access to schools, poor health and nutrition, and a lack of child protection services. The industry is working closely with cocoa-growing communities, governments in cocoa producing nations, chocolate-consuming nations around the world, and civil society groups to accelerate the end of child labor in cocoa production.

The specific problem of forced labor is extremely rare in cocoa farming. For example, for Côte d’Ivoire, a recent report showed that fewer than 9,600 adults, or 0.42 percent of those working, and 2,000 children, or 0.17 percent, could be considered to be in forced labor between 2013 and 2017. According to recent analysis, the risk of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire is primarily limited to a narrow group of recently arrived migrant workers who have recruitment-related debt and are relatively early into their employment.

The cocoa and chocolate industry has zero tolerance for any instances of forced labor, modern slavery, or human trafficking in the supply chain. If any evidence is found by companies, then this is reported to the local authorities who have the power to pursue, arrest and bring to justice those who exploit children or adults.

Labor rights organizations like Verite recommend a risk-based approach focused on four areas:

  1. Establishing robust systems to monitor, remediate, and prevent forced labor;
  2. Strengthening underlying supply chain infrastructure by encouraging producer cooperatives to provide better oversight of forced labor issues at the farm level;
  3. Improving data collection and reporting of forced labor risk factors; and
  4. Facilitating accountability and independent verification.

Companies are fully integrating a risk-based and targeted approach to forced labor monitoring and remediation into our programs on the ground in West Africa. We are working closely with farmer organizations and communities, governments, and civil society partners to take immediate and effective actions to deliver Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to eradicate forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking in the cocoa supply chain.

As today reminds us, slavery is an age-old human rights abuse that is regrettably not yet a thing of the past. It will require constant vigilance and work to ensure a cocoa sector where human rights are respected, and modern forms of slavery are never tolerated.