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Retail Industry Updates Supply Chain Industry Updates

Study Says Child Labor Persists in Cocoa Supply Chain

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iStock/Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer

Story Highlights

  • The $100 billion chocolate industry has made eliminating child labor a high priority.
  • However, a new study finds approximately 1.5 million children were exposed to hazardous labor practices in two west African nations.
  • The findings renewed calls in and out of the industry that more must be done.

The chocolate industry long has maintained it is working diligently to eliminate dangerous child labor practices from the cocoa supply chain, but a new study suggests it still has its work cut out for it.

In the past decade, the number of minors “engaged in hazardous child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana increased by 13%, according to NORC at the University of Chicago. In all, 1.56 million children in the two west African countries were involved in cocoa production and 1.48 million children “were exposed to at least one component of hazardous child labor in cocoa production,” the report said.

NORC’s projection is less than an earlier estimate that put the number of children there working in cocoa production at 2 million. But the fact that a million-and-a-half kids are exposed to work dangers is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouths of sustainably minded consumers in the West. It is also a likely source of continuing embarrassment and concern for a confectionery industry that has vowed to eliminate child labor. As one CEO recently put it: “This s— has no place in our supply chain.”

However, the situation persists, particularly as cocoa production in the region — which accounts for more than half of the world’s cocoa production — has grown to support the $100 billion chocolate industry.

“As this report shows, there are today still too many children in cocoa farming doing work for which they are too young, or work that endangers them — and child labor has no place in the cocoa supply chain,” said Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), in a statement released today, the same day the study was released. “Child labor remains a persistent challenge in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, despite major efforts by the governments, cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa-growing communities and development partners. NORC confirms that targets to reduce child labor were set without fully understanding the complexity and scale of a challenge heavily associated with poverty in rural Africa and did not anticipate the significant increase in cocoa production over the past decade.”

The NORC report did note some positive developments in the region. For instance, school attendance among children in agricultural households grew from 58% to 80% in Côte d’Ivoire and from 89% to 96% in Ghana. Also, “when multiple interventions were implemented in a community, it led to a statistically significant reduction in the rates of child labor and hazardous child labor in cocoa production.”

“Until companies step up and pay a living income for all cocoa farmers, the millions put into child labor remediation is just balderdash.”

Still, in a region where an average farmer makes less than $1 a day, the lure of additional income is probably not something the average family can easily resist, however dangerous the work.

“As the overall production of cocoa increased dramatically, cocoa farming spread into areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana where infrastructure to monitor child labor was weak and awareness of laws regulating it was low,” said Kareem Kysia, director of vulnerable populations research at NORC at the University of Chicago and a lead author of the report. “Interventions to stem hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector should target new, emerging areas of production and focus on efforts to reduce exposure to the component parts of hazardous child labor.”

WCF’s Scobey outlined steps the industry and other stakeholders are taking to address the problem, including:

  • Greatly increased child labor monitoring and remediation systems in the supply chain.
  • Investment in primary education.
  • Support for the new Living Income Differential pricing policy of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana that is intended to lift farmers out of poverty.
  • Training, coaching and development plans on good agricultural practices.

Meanwhile, adding pressure to the industry is a claim by non-government organizations that the level of child labor in cocoa production is actually even higher and that current remediation programs do little to solve the problem. “Until companies step up and pay a living income for all cocoa farmers, the millions put into child labor remediation is just balderdash,” charged a spokesperson for one such group.

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