Chocolate Companies Must Do More to Reduce Widespread Child Labor Confirmed by New Report on the West African Cocoa Sector; Due Diligence Legislation is Needed to Fix Supply Chains
For immediate release: October 21, 2020
Washington, DC – A new report out this week confirms that the chocolate industry’s deep dependence on child labor to produce cocoa, a main ingredient of chocolate, continues unabated in West Africa despite nearly two decades of interventions and manufacturers’ promises to end the worst forms of child labor. The report confirms what advocates at the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which consists of 38 child rights groups, consumer groups, and worker rights organizations (including several of America’s largest unions), have been saying for years. According to the new study by the research group NORC at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of child labor in agricultural households in cocoa-producing areas in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two primary sources of cocoa in the world, increased from 31 percent to 45 percent in the decade leading up to 2019.
The $3.5 million study, funded by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), released earlier this week, confirms that rampant child labor still exists on Ivorian and Ghanaian cocoa farms. Researchers also concluded that the vast majority of the child labor continues to be hazardous, with children using sharp tools like machetes, clearing land, carrying heavy loads, working long hours, conducting night work, and increasingly using pesticides and other agrochemicals—a major concern.
“The NORC report findings make clear that an industry that generates more than $100 billion per year in sales is doing far too little to address farmer poverty and child labor,” said Todd Larsen, executive co-director at CLC-member Green America. “The industry needs to focus on paying a living income while also rapidly scaling up programs that identify child laborers and ensure that children are able to go to school.”
Child labor in cocoa became well known to the public and Congress in 2001 following news reports of child slavery in West Africa. With consumers outraged, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) attempted to mandate a child-labor-free product-labeling requirement, but the chocolate industry fought it. Engel and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) initiated a multi-stakeholder initiative called the Harkin-Engel Protocol, combining the efforts of the chocolate companies, West African governments, laborers, and nonprofits to combat the “worst forms of child labor” in the cocoa sector. Since this innovative initiative began, chocolate companies have missed deadlines set to eliminate child labor in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Another goal to reduce the “worst forms of child labor” by 70 percent by 2020, was also missed.
NORC interviewed samples of children and heads of agricultural households and extrapolated those results to find that 1.6 million children toiled on cocoa farms in the two countries in 2019—and most of those children performed hazardous work. Although 1.6 million would seem to compare favorably to the 2.1 million in child labor found in the last cocoa child labor survey in 2015 by Tulane University’s Payson Center, the NORC study totals are not comparable to the Tulane totals because of methodological differences.
“Survey findings show an increase in both child labor and hazardous child labor in cocoa production in the cocoa growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana between 2008/09 and 2018/19, while cocoa production increased significantly over the same period,” noted NORC. Report authors found that child labor and hazardous child labor was ‘stabilizing” in area of historically high cocoa production, which tended to be areas with greater company interventions aimed at reducing child labor. Child labor and hazardous child labor increased in areas of medium- or low-cocoa production areas, suggesting to researchers that more interventions should be targeted to these areas.
“It’s frustrating to see that there is basically no substantive progress in reducing child labor after two decades of companies pledging to end the problem,” said CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg and executive director of the National Consumers League. “It’s clear that companies need to commit more resources to combatting child labor. We must hold them accountable because they are the entities profiting from the child labor.”
“The fact that nearly half of the children aged 5-17 living in agricultural households in the Ivory Coast and Ghana are engaged in hazardous work in cocoa production demonstrates the failure of voluntary corporate initiatives under the Harkin-Engel Protocol, and the need for greater government regulation in consumer countries,” said Charlotte Tate, Labor Justice Campaigns Director at Green America, and chair of the CLC’s Cocoa Workgroup.
“The NORC Report shows conclusively that “voluntary” initiatives like the Harkin-Engle Protocol, in which the cocoa companies pledged 19 years ago to end their use of child labor, have not worked,” agreed Terry Collingsworth of IRAdvocates, a CLC member and nonprofit litigation firm that is suing chocolate companies alleging the use of forced child labor. “Child slavery and subjecting children to the worst forms of child labor must end now. These serious human rights violations require mandatory rules with serious penalties, not empty promises from cocoa companies profiting from the exploitation of children.”
The NORC findings were not entirely negative: school enrollment continued to climb, and researchers found that child labor interventions showed evidence of reducing child labor (especially if there were multiple interventions or school-based initiatives).
“There is no turning away from the devastating news that hazardous child labor has actually increased in cocoa over the last decade, despite years of effort and millions of dollars spent,” noted CLC International Issues Committee chair Judy Gearhart. “Yet the significant increase in school attendance in Ivory Coast—22 percent in the Ivory Coast over the last 10 years—and continued high attendance rates in Ghana are a testament to cocoa farmers’ drive to give their children opportunities despite the continuing poverty that perpetuates their reliance on child labor.”
“We’re encouraged by the progress in getting children who work on West African cocoa farms into school,” said Lorretta Johnson, a CLC co-chair and secretary-treasurer emeritus of the American Federation of Teachers. “We cannot rest, though, until every child is in school and we have ended the worst forms of child labor so that children who work now can focus on their education.”
In addition to better prices for cocoa farmers to help them achieve a living wage, the CLC also supports federal “due diligence” legislation that would require companies to remove labor exploitation like child labor from their supply chains when it is identified. The European Union has promised mandatory legislation in 2021. France passed due diligence legislation in 2017; other countries are working on it, but legislative efforts in the United States have been fleeting and have not advanced.
It’s critical that future cocoa child labor survey reports funded by DOL use consistent methodologies to fully evaluate whether progress is occurring. “Our inability to compare the NORC total of children in child labor in cocoa with Tulane’s is very unfortunate,” said Maki. “The study also did not attempt to assess farmer income—of vital importance in addressing child labor.”
“The scope of the studies must be expanded,” added Maki. “For mystifying reasons, The NORC study did not attempt to determine if children are trapped in forced labor or modern slavery. The researchers apparently were not given the mandate to look at forced labor and doing so would have required a different methodology says NORC.”
“NORC found that 6 percent of the children in cocoa—roughly 90,000 children—do not work for their parents or relatives. This could be an indication of children at risk of forced labor and should be investigated further,” noted the CLC’s Gearhart.
The Child Labor Coalition and its members seek greater participation in the development and release of future cocoa surveys. “Civil society would have appreciated the same level of consultation on the report methodology as was afforded to government and industry actors,” noted Charity Ryerson, the executive director of the Corporate Accountability Lab and a CLC member.
Another area not covered by the NORC report that deserves the public’s attention is deforestation. “Deforestation in cocoa-growing areas has been widespread,” notes CLC-member Etelle Higonnet, senior campaign director for Mighty Earth. “Cocoa remains a major global driver of forest destruction and the ensuing climate change, especially rainfall loss. Deforestation is frequently connected to child labor in cocoa, often in the least regulated areas. Chocolate companies must pledge to end deforestation in West Africa as they work to reduce child labor – otherwise these children will be growing up facing desertification and climate chaos, on top of poverty and exploitation.”
About the Child Labor Coalition
The Child Labor Coalition, which has 38 member organizations, represents consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. The CLC’s website and membership list can be found at www.stopchildlabor.org