POWELL, Ohio — West African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply around 70% of the world’s cocoa. Companies like Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle get their chocolate from this region. Though the region supplies cocoa around the world, children in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast are part of child labor in the cocoa industry. Around half of the children living in cocoa-growing areas in Ghana and the Ivory Coast could be a part of child labor. This accounts for around 1.5 million children experiencing child labor between the two countries, according to a study from the University of Chicago. The issue of child labor is a persistent problem despite government efforts by Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Child and Forced Labor
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a nonprofit based in Switzerland, is working to eliminate child and forced labor in the cocoa industry. By organizing efforts with the cocoa industry, companies, farmers, governments, international organizations and more, the International Cocoa Initiative seeks to support cocoa-growing communities with responsible cocoa supply chains without the use of child or forced labor.
The Borgen Project spoke with International Cocoa Initiative Executive Director Matthias Lange about child and forced labor and the work the organization is doing today.
As the ICI works to eliminate child labor in the cocoa industry, the organization understands the complexity of the issue. In countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, farmers may be too poor to hire workers. As a result, rural poverty and effects such as food insecurity and limited access to education can lead to children working on the family farm. But, if such work hurts a child’s health, development or education, it is considered child labor. And, according to international standards, this work is unacceptable.
Though a vast majority of child labor in the cocoa industry is related to children doing hazardous tasks, there are ways children can help out on cocoa farms without the work being detrimental to their development. For example, if a child is able to attend school while also working on the family’s farm in safe conditions, such work is acceptable child work, according to the International Labour Organization. Often, in rural areas experiencing poverty, such work is vital to the family farms.
Though less common, the cocoa supply chain also sees the use of forced labor. The work involves threats or penalties to the workers. For example, workers may face threats from employers of withdrawing their ID papers if they do not continue working on cocoa farms. In Ghana, a survey found that 23% of cocoa laborers worked without compensation, according to Food Empowerment Project. With forced labor, children may be removed from their homes without knowing the full scale of work they will be forced to perform.
In the fight against child and forced labor, poverty is both a cause and symptom of such labor. As children are needed to work to support the family, they often miss out on attending school. Without development through education, these children may continue working as cocoa farmers into their adulthood. Without an education, children working on cocoa farms have little chance of breaking the cycle of poverty. The children working on cocoa farms often lack access to basic social services, education, health care and safe drinking water.
International Cocoa Initiative
To combat child and forced labor and the effects that come with it, the ICI helps companies put human rights due diligence systems in place, so the companies can identify and address human rights risks in the cocoa supply chain. Additionally, the International Cocoa Initiative strives for social protections on quality education and poverty reduction, as these factors can contribute to the use of child and forced labor.
Large-scale efforts cannot be coordinated by one actor alone. But, the ICI works in a coordinated and integrated manner with many different actors to organize efforts, Lange told The Borgen Project.
The work the ICI does can be separated into three categories: operational support, innovation and learning and policies, practices and standards, according to its website. With operational support, the ICI works to develop new tools and approaches to better understand and address foreseeable risks of child and forced labor in the cocoa supply chain. For example, the organization recently tested a program that used targeted income support to reduce child labor in the cocoa industry. By identifying households that used child labor, the organization was able to provide direct income support using mobile money. Over a six-month period, households in Ghana received cash transfers. The program saw a 16% decrease in child labor over six months, according to Lange. The initiative also prevented children outside of child labor from falling into such labor.
With learning and innovation, the ICI is continuously researching and sharing new innovations to scale up action against child and forced labor in the cocoa supply chain. By increasing knowledge about the causes of child and forced labor, the organization can begin to close some knowledge gaps in the supply chain.
But the ICI recognizes there are limitations in the ways systems can operate. The organization believes that adequate legislation can close this gap. With national and international policies, a supportive environment can be created in the cocoa supply chain that prioritizes the elimination of child and forced labor. As Lange told The Borgen Project, companies’ obligations to fight against child and forced labor should not be based on voluntary actions alone and should be supported by legislation.
Current World Challenges
With teams on the ground and adequate systems in place, the ICI is able to quickly and efficiently respond to adversities that will affect the cocoa supply chain and child labor. For example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the ICI was able to still operate as it had local teams on the ground. Though according to Lange, there was an 18% increase in child labor during the pandemic, the increase was temporary. With more children out of school and lockdowns closing the border, the children had to help on cocoa farms. Though child labor levels have returned to normal, Lange says the ICI will continue to monitor the possible long-term economic effects of the pandemic.
Global food shortages and rising food costs impact sectors all across the globe. Though Lange says data has not yet shown how rising costs impact cocoa supply chain and use of child labor, he says this can affect the disposable income of families. With less disposable income, families will have fewer means to send their children to school or receive health care. But as Lange says, with systems in place to protect children and support cocoa farmers, such external shocks can have negative effects that systems in place could mitigate. For example, programs such as the previously mentioned cash transfers to target income support can help support families dealing with external shocks.
The ICI is working toward goals put in place in the 2021-2026 strategy. The organization, along with its stakeholders, is working toward sustainability, protecting human rights and tackling child and forced labor.
Lange says there are still instances of child labor in the cocoa industry. But, through monitoring child labor and providing remediation systems, the ICI has been able to reduce child labor among 50% of identified children.
Lange explains, “this is a success in my view.” Such systems started at a small-scale, but now cover around 30% of total cocoa farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. As the International Cocoa Initiative continues working toward the elimination of child and forced labor, it works with partners across the globe to coordinate efforts in the cocoa supply chain.
– Abigail Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons