Seventy per cent of working children are in agriculture–over 132 million girls and boys aged 5-14 years old. These children are working on farms and plantations, often from sun up to sun down, planting and harvesting crops, spraying pesticides, and tending livestock on rural farms and plantations. Explore the map above to find out more about this subject.

Global Civil Society Statement on Child Labour in Cocoa, June 12th, 2021

Today, June 12th, is the International Day against Child Labour. On this day, as a large group of civil society organisations working on human rights in the cocoa sector across the world, we urgently call on chocolate & cocoa companies and governments to start living up to decades-old promises. The cocoa sector must come with ambitious plans to develop transparent and accountable solutions for current and future generations of children in cocoa communities.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the chocolate industry’s promise to end child labour in the cocoa sector of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, a commitment they made under the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol and renewed again with the 2010 Framework of Action. Furthermore, it is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

This year should have been a landmark in the fight against child labour in cocoa. Instead, the cocoa sector as a whole has been conspicuously quiet on this topic.

Child labour is still a reality on West African cocoa farms, and there is strong evidence that forced labour continues in the sector as well. Recent reports – such as Ghana’s GLSS 7 survey and the study of the University of Chicago commissioned by the United States government – show that close to 1.5 million children are engaged in hazardous or age-inappropriate work on cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The vast majority of these child labourers are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, such as carrying heavy loads, working with dangerous tools, and increasing exposure to harmful agrochemicals.

After two decades of rhetoric, voluntary initiatives, and pilot projects, it is clearer than ever that ambitious, sector-wide action is needed, coupled with binding regulations, to address both child labour and the poverty that lies at its root.

These solutions must include regulations for mandatory human rights due diligence for companies operating in all major cocoa consuming countries, including avenues for legal remedy in those companies’ home countries. We note with interest the developments around regulations in the EU, although the announced delays are concerning. We also observe that the United States – the world’s number one cocoa consuming country – is particularly lagging in regulatory developments on this issue.

The industry, however, cannot use a lack of regulation as an excuse not to shoulder their own responsibility. As such, every chocolate and cocoa company should have a system in place that monitors and remediates child labour in all of their value chains with a child labour risk. The impact of these systems must be communicated publicly and transparently in a way that enables meaningful participation and access to remedy for workers and their representatives.

In parallel, effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries are needed to work on the necessary enabling environment. These must be developed in a much more inclusive manner than previous attempts, bringing in civil society organisations, independent trade unions, local communities, and farmer representatives. Adequate resources must be provided to enable these local actors to participate as equals in the development and implementation of solutions.

Child labour can only be effectively tackled if its root causes are also adequately addressed. As such, the cocoa sector must ensure that child labour approaches are deeply embedded into realistic and ambitious strategies to achieve a living income for all cocoa households. Such strategies must include the payment of fair and just remuneration at the farm gate; prices need to be sufficient to provide a living income. There are clear calculations available for Living Income Reference Prices, which are not even close to being met.

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Teen Workers May Be Dying to Produce Sugar in Nicaragua

By Deborah Andrews, Contributing Writer

Legal protections for children working in hazardous conditions in Nicaragua are robust on paper, but systematic publicity, implementation and enforcement of the law is missing. Nicaragua has ratified all of the core international covenants in regards to child labor and has passed national laws that clarify in which hazardous environments child labor is prohibited, but the positive impact of these has not become reality.

In 2015, La Isla Foundation produced a report entitled, ‘Cycle of Sickness: A Survey Report on Child Labor in the Nicaraguan Sugarcane Fields of Ingenio San Antonio’ which investigated child labor among Nicaraguan sugarcane workers.

Child sugarcane worker. Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Courtesy of Green America.

Child sugarcane worker. Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Courtesy of Green America.

Agriculture, particularly the rapidly expanded sugarcane industry, is one of the most hazardous sectors of the economy and child labor within it is widespread.

Nearly four in 10 Nicaraguan children live in poverty.  In rural areas poverty, affects 50% of children. The Teenage pregnancy rate is 23.3%. Only 49% of Primary School students successfully completed 6th Grade and over 72% of the population does not finish Secondary School. Child labor is a major problem in the country and a huge barrier to education, reducing life-time earnings for many individuals. Nicaragua is the only Latin American Country where school is compulsory only up to age 12, as opposed to age 15 in all others.

Although illegal for a minor to be employed in the sugarcane industry, child workers obtain employment through third party contractors with borrowed ID numbers. This precarious power relationship leaves children extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Workers reported various ways their salary could be reduced without cause or explanation.  Most workers were not told how much they would be paid before they started work and had no paperwork documenting their salary – increasing the likelihood of wage manipulation. Many workers were employed through third party contractors and with borrowed ID numbers (which they paid up to 2 days salary to the owner for) and some reported having their money stolen, with the threat of dismissal if they reported the theft.

Interviewing current and former sugarcane workers (ages 12-17 years) La Isla Foundation discovered several negative impacts on children working long-term in sugarcane: Their personal development, their health, their mental health and their access to education is restricted. Children often become introverted and are sadly deprived of the medical and psychological care they ultimately require. Feelings of inadequacy and frustration rob children of hope and the pressure of knowing their family depends on them to earn causes huge suffering.

The hazardous working conditions in sugarcane include an excessive workload (8-15 hours per day), excessive heat (often averaging 100 degrees Fahrenheit), little or no protection equipment, no training and completely inadequate access to water and rest. Interviewees reported symptoms of dizziness from dehydration, extreme fatigue, heat stress, fever and problems with urination. Nicaragua has the highest mortality rate from Kidney Disease within the Americas. In the most severely impacted agricultural areas of Western Nicaragua the incidence of Kidney Disease is an estimated five times that of the national average.

Chronic Kidney Disease of nontraditional causes (know as CKDnT) is the progressive, degenerative, fatal form of Kidney Disease that disproportionately affects agricultural workers due to the toxic mix of their hazardous working environment. It has resulted in the death of an estimated 20,000 workers in Nicaragua. The premature deaths of these primary provider adults often results in children being forced to replace them in sugarcane to make up for the lost family income, further exacerbating the problem of child labor in this industry.

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For Love of Chocolate…On World Chocolate Day, We Look at the Human Cost Behind 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.

A 13-year-old cocoa worker in West Africa. [From the Robin Romano Archives of the University of Connecticut]/

A 13-year-old cocoa worker in West Africa. [From the Robin Romano Archives of the University of Connecticut]/

Exploitation 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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