SEATTLE — Nestlé took a more active role in education and cocoa farming in West Africa in 2009 when the company initiated the Nestlé Cocoa Plan (NCP). The plan aims to train farmers in better farming techniques, increase access to education in cocoa communities and raise family incomes to address the root causes of child labor. The idea is that better trees and better farming will lead to better farmer income, and this will allow parents to afford to send their children to school instead of to work in cocoa plantations.
Trouble in Cocoa and the Steps to Redemption
The Cocoa Plan came about after a lawsuit was filed against Nestlé in 2005. According to Confectionary News, the lawsuit was originally filed by three individuals from Mali who had been trafficked as children into Côte d’Ivoire and forced to work unpaid on cocoa farms. The Guardian and Forbes Magazine both argue that the NCP has not done nearly enough to address the problem of child labor in Nestlé’s supply chain. However, Nestlé has done more than it is credited for.
Beth Hoffman of Forbes Magazine said, “The Nestlé Cocoa Plan is but a baby step in the right direction,” but the plan has evolved and improved since 2009. Every year the NCP is taking greater strides to ensure that cocoa farming in West Africa becomes sustainable. The program has addressed many of the issues it has been criticized of and it has expanded over the years to cover more farmers and communities.
In 2012, for example, after continued pressure from lawsuits, Nestlé began to work with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to assess labor conditions in its supply chain. Nestlé has shown itself to be responsive to the reports and recommendations provided by the FLA since 2012. In 2013, the FLA assessors found four children under the age of 15 working in the cocoa fields, which prompted Nestlé to begin its Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) to address the issue.
The CLMRS works through what Nestlé calls “child labor monitoring and remediation agents” and “community liaison people” who raise awareness about child labor and identify children at risk. It is through the CLMRS agents that thousands of children involved in cocoa farming in West Africa have received birth certificates, school kits and uniforms that will allow them to receive an education. Since the beginning of the program, Nestlé has also increased its collaboration with local authorities to facilitate the building of new schools and the recruitment of teachers to further raise access to education.
In response to complaints that the NCP does not mention women, the CLMRS recently initiated projects in Côte d’Ivoire to “enable mothers of children at risk to generate their own income, such as growing or selling cassava, which can help them cover the cost of enrolling two children in school per household.” Nestlé claims that it is women who are more likely to send their children to school if they have the means, so the project is likely to increase school attendance.
The FLA 2014-2015 Independent External Monitoring Report of cocoa farming in West Africa shows that the CLMRS has also achieved incredible expansion. Initially the program served eight cooperatives, but it was expanded to 33 cooperatives in 2015 and aims to serve all the cooperatives that supply Nestlé by the end of this year. Currently the program covers 14,075 farmers, 9,075 children between 0 and 5 years old and 31,807 between 5 and 17 years old, of which 3,933 were identified as child laborers. Half of the children have already received assistance to return to school and Nestlé is working to help the other half.
Nestlé, Farming and Education
As increasing access to education depends on family income and family income depends on cocoa farming in West Africa, the NCP has made increasing crop productivity an integral part of their plan. In 2015 Nestlé trained 44,000 farmers in better agricultural practices and provided 1.7 million higher yielding cocoa plants to plantations. Such actions will help farmers improve yields, reduce cocoa diseases and improve bean quality. Thus, farmers will be able to increase their income and reduce their dependence on their children for labor.
Another indication that the Cocoa Plan is heading in the right direction is that so far it has fulfilled the goals it has set for itself. The NCP achieved the ambition to build 40 schools by 2015 and is aiming to build five new schools in 2016 in areas with the highest incidences of child labor. In addition, the NCP has been slowly expanding to cover more cooperatives every year. In 2012 only 10 percent of Nestlé’s cocoa supply came from farmers covered by the NCP. This figure increased to 25 percent in 2015 and continues to rise.
Every time Nestlé has faced pressure from lawsuits and consumers, it has increased its commitment to improve cocoa farming in West Africa so that children may return to school, showing the immense good companies can do. Companies are willing and able to improve conditions in developing countries if given the right push. The thousands of people that Nestlé has managed to help since 2009 in West Africa illustrates the potential that large companies have to solve many of the world’s problems.
– Christina Egerstrom
Photo: The Guardian