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After 20 Years of Little Results, New Approaches are Needed to End Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector

Here at the National Consumers League we are very proud that we’ve been a leader in the fight to end child labor since our founding in 1899. Thrity one years ago, we established the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which merges the resources of nearly 40 groups that are committed to the fight to eliminate child labor. The CLC brings together several major unions and a variety of child rights and human rights groups to perform child labor advocacy.

In the last few years, the coalition has focused increasing energy on child labor in cocoa.  In 2001, news broke that cocoa–the main ingredient in chocolate–was being produced, in part, by large numbers of children who were trapped in the worst forms of child labor in West Africa. An alarmed U.S. Congress decided to act.  First, it threatened to mandate labels on candy bars to help consumers purchase child-labor-free chocolate.

The chocolate industry fought hard to derail the labeling system. In its place, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) launched a multi-stakeholder initiative called the Harken-Engel Protocol. Eventually, it brought together the chocolate industry, the governments of Ghana and the Ivory Coast (where 70 percent of the world’s cocoa was produced) and the U.S. Department of Labor to try to tackle the problem. Over the next decade, over $70 million would be spent to fix cocoa’s child labor problem.

Child cocoa workers in West Africa. Photo by Robin Romano.

Despite these efforts, a creeping sense that remediation strategies weren’t really working began to emerge. In 2015, Tulane University researchers issued a federally-funded report that said the number of children in child labor in West African cocoa numbered over two million and had not declined. One bright spot was noted: most children in Ghana were attending school but in Ghana and the Ivory Coast children continued to toil, often without pay, and continued to use machetes, carry heavy loads, and apply pesticides—things that made their work dangerous.

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Today is National Chocolate Day….Something to Think about When You Enjoy Some Chocolate

There’s no doubt that humans love chocolate. Globally, we consume $80 to $100 billion worth of it a year. Despite its popularity and the joy it gives us, there is a dark side to chocolate: cocoa, its main ingredient, is often produced by child labor. The US Department of Labor (USDOL) identifies this as the case in six countries: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

In two of those countries, the Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, USDOL notes there is forced labor on cocoa plantations. There is also evidence that thousands of children have been trafficked to work on cocoa plantations from neighboring countries Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.

cocoa stat 1Exploitation in chocolate’s supply chain became hotly discussed in 2000 and 2001 when media reports about wide-spread child labor in the West Africa nations of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where the majority of cocoa was being produced, were published.

Congressional leaders were alarmed about the reports. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced legislation that would require child-labor free chocolate to be recognized with a label. The measure passed the US House of Representatives but it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that wanting child-labor free cocoa and delivering on that promise were two very different things. The nature of cocoa farming made it a very difficult crop to remove child labor from cocoa production. The region features hundreds of thousands of small cocoa farms operating in jungle-like topography. The region is lacking much infrastructure, including thousands of schools that would be needed to educate all the children working in cocoa.

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10 Facts About the Latest Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas from Tulane University:

[On July 30, 2015, Tulane University researchers released their latest study — “Survey Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas”– we present highligths here written and compiled by Mary Donovan, contributing writer to the CLC.]

  1. Child labor in cocoa production in West Africa is increasing. The total numbers of children in cocoa production, child labor in cocoa production, and hazardous work by children in cocoa production in West Africa all increased from 2009/10 to 2013/14. In 2013/14 there were 2,260,407 children working in cocoa production in West Africa. 1,303,009 of those children work in Cote d’Ivoire and 957,398 work in Ghana.
  1. A plan to eliminate child labor in the industry exists. Fifteen years ago, representatives of the international cocoa industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol “to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.” The Protocol provides a framework for accountability and outlines action steps. The Ministers of Labor from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire signed a Declaration of Joint Action to support the implementation of the Protocol in 2010. In spite of this initiative, child labor in cocoa production in West Africa has increased.
  1. Cote d’Ivoire experienced an especially large growth. The numbers of children working in cocoa production increased by 59%, the number of children doing child labor in cocoa production increased by 48%, and the number of children doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 46%. Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa producer.
  1. The number of children working in cocoa production fell slightly in Ghana.
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How Can We End Child Labor In The Fields? Pay Farmers Better

By Beth Hoffman, contributor to Forbes

A few weeks ago a request for internal documents from the chocolate giant Hershey’s Co moved forward, with a judge ruling that the company will have to share confidential information with its shareholders.  The Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System brought legal action against the company in 2012, asserting that the company knowingly bought cocoa from areas plagued with child labor issues.

Even though Hershey’s is the company targeted in the lawsuit, human rights abuses like child labor are still rampant throughout the food supply chain.  Although companies like Mars or Nestlé now publicly discuss child labor in their supply chains, these issues are unlikely to go away when these same companies rely upon cheap land and labor to operate.

Last week the UC Davis School of Law featured a full day conference “Confronting Child Labor in Global Agricultural Supply Chains.”  The conference featured a parade of impressive experts from a wide range of stakeholders, including Mars Co, Bonsucro, the International Labor Organization and the U.S. Department of Labor.  Each presented on the problem of child labor in the fields, and of need to create financial alternatives for rural youth, to educate communities about illegal practices, and to increase productivity in the fields.

But what was not discussed by speakers as a solution to child labor was to substantially raise the price farmers and workers are paid for their work.

Reflecting on the conference, speaker Professor Alfred Babo, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Bouaké, commented.  … Read the rest