For close to 20 years the issue of child labour and slavery has been on the radar of the industry who source from West Africa which makes approximately 66% of the world’s cocoa. At that time the development of the cocoa industry and the world clamouring for chocolate and cocoa products has resulted in the devastation of forests and the widespread usage of unsafe chemicals.
Not enough has been done by industry to effectively convert the situation – in fact, it is now evident it may have become worse because of the current pandemic. Of all children in Ghana aged 5 to 17 years, roughly 21 percent are involved in child labour and 14 per cent are employed in hazardous forms of confinement. This is twice as common in rural locality.
According to data on agricultural households during 2018/2019, a total of 1.56 million children were engaged in child labour (an estimated 790,000 in Ivory Coast and 770,000 in Ghana), which had shortened from a reported wider industry figure of 2 million several years previously.
A recent report reveals that in all farming households in cocoa-growing areas of Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, the percentage of young people aged 5-17 in child labour in cocoa farms has increased in the past decade from 31% in 2008/2009 to 45% in 2018/2019. In Côte D’Ivoire, the proportion increased from 23% to 38%, and in Ghana, from 44% to 55%. The proportion of children in cocoa-related child labour and hazardous child labour has remained consistently higher in Ghana than in Côte D’Ivoire.
Systemic failures rob families in rural communities of the desirable quality of life. Schools do not exist in any communities. Even when they do, in some circumstances, children walk for miles through thick bushes and dirty water puddles to get to school. This is the extent of deprivation in some cocoa communities. Farmers in such communities have two options; to expose the lives of children by exposing them to the dangerous procedure of walking for miles through thick bushes to school, or to keep children at work on the farm under supervision.
In December 2019, Ivorian police rescued more than 100 children from cocoa plantations during a similar operation in the east of the country.
Elements that impede the prevention of child labour include social norms that consider it acceptable for children to work and promote the view that many adolescent children should be treated as adults, poorly enforced legislation and policies prohibiting child labour, insufficient allocation of resources for the prevention of and response to child labour, inadequate services to support working children or prevent child labour and family reliance on income generated by children due to extreme poverty.
In March 2020, the police received more resources and opened six operational centres in the main cocoa-producing areas to better combat child trafficking and labour. The Ghanaian government have committed to use the Trafficking in Persons Information System developed by the International Organization for Migration to improve case tracking and inter-ministerial coordinated responses.
Addressing child labor is important because important consumer markets, notably the European Union (EU), the Netherlands, and the United States, are considering or have already passed policies to regulate the import of cocoa and other forest-risk commodities to ensure these imports are not produced with child labor and do not lead to deforestation.
Major chocolate companies have given to help root out child labour from their supply chains as consumers and governments become more and more concerned about the source of their food. For instance, the Olam Cocoa is working with the Ivorian government, key chocolate manufacturers, cocoa processors and the Jacobs Foundation on the Children First partnership, which is pressing governments to introduce national traceability systems.
While, creating such direct financial assistance has been seen as critical to solving child labour issues, as many smallholder farms making up the vast bulk of the sector often employing young family members to assist with their operations, with many individuals in the industry believed to be working for less than $1 dollar a day, falling significantly short of UN definitions of poverty levels.
However, the original target remains outstanding, despite the latest progress revealed by the latest studies. This had led to an extension of the protocol’s key deadlines for making its goal being pushed back until 2020, amid a number of individual campaigns from major groups in the sector including Mars, Barry Callebaut, Nestle, Olam and Cargill, which have increasingly worked with the West African countries to improve wider community conditions and infrastructure, as well as recently agreeing a living income differential premium of $400 dollars per tonne to be paid directly to farmers to enable them to make a viable living.
Mars said in a statement that it had committed $1bn to a responsible sourcing strategy and called for legislation to address the root causes of child labour on West African cocoa farms.
Thither must be campaigning for the enactment of mandatory human rights due diligence laws worldwide;Increase payments to cocoa farmers to attain a living income;There should be increase in child labours monitoring and remediation plans to reach 100% of cocoa-growing communities and young people; and reduction in toxic pesticide application and other environmental damages as part of a commitment to ending deforestation and instituting earth-friendly silviculture practices.