An Update on the Chocolate Industry: End Child Labor

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SEATTLE — Last August, Nestle announced that by 2016 all of the cocoa produced to make KitKats would be sustainably sourced, following a resurfacing of child labor scandals in the chocolate industry. This February, UTZ and Nestle announced that this goal has been achieved. Like Nestle, many of the big, multinational chocolate corporations have been taking steps to end child labor — a problem that their industry is infamous for, but the Cocoa Barometer explains that they still have a long way to go.

In Ivory Coast and Ghana, which combined produce 60 percent of the global cocoa supply, there are about 2 million children working on cocoa farms. Elizabeth Jardim, director of consumer advocacy at the nonprofit Green America, told Fortune that currently no large, international chocolate corporation could ensure that their cocoa has not been produced by child labor. On the bright side, she told Fortune, most of them are making moves, in great part spurred by consumer pressure, to help end child labor in the cocoa supply chain.

In 2001, many of the large chocolate companies signed the Harkins-Engel protocol, which aimed to end child labor in its worst forms by 2005. The worst forms refer to forced labor and work which would harm the safety of children among other criteria, and part of the agreement placed an emphasis on making sure children went to school. In 2005, the deadline for the goal which had not been met was pushed to 2008, then 2010 and most recently 2020.

Most of the large global chocolate companies such as Nestle, Mondelez and Mars have created programs such as Nestle Cocoa Plan, Vision 4 Change and Cocoa Life Respectively. In areas where they have implemented the programs, training farmers and community members on the definitions of child labor and how to avoid it, they have proven effective, according to Brian O’Keefe, a Fortune journalist who traveled to Ivory Coast and Ghana to witness cocoa farming firsthand. Jardim explained that these programs, which engage directly with cocoa farming communities, work more effectively than others whose programs rely predominantly on fair trade certifications rather than direct engagement.

Nonetheless, the 2015 report by the Cocoa Barometer, a consortium of NGO’s and trade unions, explains that in proportion to their market power, large chocolate companies could be doing a lot more to end child labor practices in their cocoa supply chain. For instance, some of the world’s largest chocolate companies set a target of training 300,000 farmers by the end of the decade. This number represents merely a small fraction of the impact these international corporations could have in relation to their market power.

Chocolate companies, however, do not bear all of the responsibility to end child labor in the cocoa supply chain moving forward, according to the Cocoa Barometer. Cooperation from an array of actors will be necessary to solve this problem.

The Cocoa Barometer states that social responsibility initiatives from chocolate companies, more legislation, platforms to combat child labor and transparent communication between countries would all facilitate the process of solving this problem that affects millions of kids. These efforts would produce a reliable monitoring system of the industry. Currently, scarcity of independently affiliated evaluations has created difficulties in tracking the impact of chocolate company programs and monitoring the industry in an effective way. Antoine Fontain, co-author of the Cocoa Barometer told Fortune, “Best case scenario, we’re only doing 10% of what is needed.”

Speaking of the Nestle’s training, Armand Gnekpie, a farmer from Ivory Coast, told Fortune’s Brian O’Keefe, “We learned from the training that we have to do things differently.” The world’s major chocolate corporations, individual governments and the international communities have the opportunity to do things differently. Fortune expresses that it will definitely be a challenge that requires excellent leadership. Fortunately, the resources to maximize impact exist, it is simply a matter of piecing them together effectively.

Laura Isaza

Photo: Flickr

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Laura Isaza

Laura writes for The Borgen Project from Seattle and her favorite quote is found in the first three sentences of the fifth chapter of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.

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