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. ”I think if you ask most farmers if they need a new school, they would tell you that they would rather be paid better. If they had the money in their own pockets, they could send their children to school, and they would not need their children to work on the farms.”
Article published with permission of the author, who is a member of the faculty at the University of San Francisco.