Child labour in cocoa production

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Boy collecting cocoa after beans have dried

The widespread use of children in cocoa production is controversial, not only for the concerns about child labor and exploitation, but also because, as of 2015, up to 19,000 children working in Côte d'Ivoire, the world's biggest producer of cocoa,[1] may have been victims of trafficking or slavery.[2] Attention on this subject has focused on West Africa, which collectively supplies 69% of the world's cocoa, Côte d'Ivoire in particular, supplying 35%.[3] Thirty percent of children under age 15 in sub-Saharan Africa are child laborers, mostly in agricultural activities that includes cocoa farming.[4] It is estimated that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in growing cocoa.[5] Major chocolate producers, such as Nestlé, buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa.[6] In 2013–2014, an estimated 1.4 million children aged 5 years old to 11 years old worked in agriculture in cocoa-growing areas, approximately 800,000 of them are engaged in hazardous work, including working with sharp tools and agricultural chemicals and carrying heavy loads.[7][8]

A major study of the issue, published in Fortune magazine in the U.S. in March 2016, concluded that approximately 2.1 million children in West Africa "still do the dangerous and physically taxing work of harvesting cocoa". The report was doubtful as to whether the situation can be improved significantly.[9]

Child labor definition[edit]

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that "is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; by obliging them to leave school prematurely; or by requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work."[10] Not all work that children do is child labor. Work done that is not detrimental to children's health, development or schooling is beneficial because it allows children to develop skills, gain experience and prepare them for future positions;[10] these are not considered child labor.[10]

The worst forms of child labor, related to cocoa production, are using children as slaves or in debt bondage, trafficking them, and forcing them to do hazardous work,[11][12] which includes using dangerous machinery or tools, manually transporting heavy loads, working with hazardous agents or working long hours.[12]

Child slavery and trafficking[edit]

In 1998, UNICEF reported that Ivorian farmers were using enslaved children – many from surrounding countries.[13] A 2000 BBC documentary described child slavery on commercial cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire.[2][14] In 2001, the US State Department estimated there were 15,000 child slaves in cocoa, cotton, and coffee farms in Côte d'Ivoire,[15] and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association acknowledged that child slavery is used in the cocoa harvest.[15]

Malian migrants have long worked on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire,[16] but in 2000 cocoa prices had dropped to a 10-year low and some farmers stopped paying their employees.[16] The Malian counsel had to rescue boys who had not been paid for five years and who were beaten if they tried to run away.[16] Malian officials believed that 15,000 children, some as young as 11 years old, were working in Côte d'Ivoire in 2001.[17] These children were often from poor families or the slums and were sold for "just a few dollars" to work in other countries.[17] Parents were told the children would find work and send money home, but once the children left home, they often worked in conditions resembling slavery.[2] In other cases, children begging for food were lured from bus stations and sold as slaves.[18]

In 2002, Côte d'Ivoire had 12,000 children with no relatives nearby, which suggested they were trafficked,[2] likely from neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo.[19] According to a 2009 snowball sampling study, the majority of those with childhood cocoa labor experience were trafficked (75% from Burkina Faso and 63% from Mali).[20] The majority of those who were trafficked had no interaction with police, and only 0.5% had any contact from institutions that provided social services.[21] Western African nations of Cameroon,[22] Côte d'Ivoire,[23] Ghana[24] and Mali[25] are on the 2009 US State Department's Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking in part due to the trafficking of children in cocoa production. Burkina Faso[26] and Togo[27] are rated at Tier 2 in part due to trafficking for cocoa production.

The blame for the slavery in cocoa production has been passed from one group to the next. Those who sell the children to the farmers claimed they did not see the slavery.[13] The Ivorian government accused foreigners of using and selling slaves[13] and blamed multinational chocolate companies for keeping cocoa prices low and farmers in poverty; it claimed the low prices forced some farmers to use slave labor.[1] The Ivorian prime minister, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, said the price would need to increase 10 times to ensure a good quality of life for the farmers and their families.[1] Farmers who bought slaves blamed the worldwide cost of cocoa.[13] Cocoa suppliers claimed they cannot manage what happens on the farms.[13] Chocolate companies stated that the suppliers needed to provide cocoa that was not produced by slaves.[13] Consumers did not know that their chocolate was produced using slave labor.[13]

In 2001, due to pressure applied by the US Congress and potential US and UK boycotts,[2] the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eliminating forced child labor.[28] In 2012, Ferrero and Mars promised that they will end cocoa slavery by 2020.[29][30][31]
In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a report on labor conditions around the world[32] in which a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor mentioned 6 countries (among a total of 74) where the cocoa industry employed underage children and indentured laborers. Instances of child labor were reported in 4 of the listed countries namely Cameroon, Ghana, Guniea and Sierra Leone. The others (Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria) resorted to both child labor and forced labor.

News reports as recently as 2018, indicate that "most child slaves on cocoa farms (Ivory Coast and Ghana) come from Mali and Burkina Faso, two of the poorest nations on Earth. The children, some as young as ten, are sent by their families or trafficked by agents with the promise of money. They are made to work long hours for little or no money."[33]

Production and consumption statistics[edit]

Cocoa bean output in 2012

In Ghana, the cocoa industry began in the late 19th century[34] and in Côte d'Ivoire it began in the early 20th century.[35] Ghana became the largest cocoa producer in the world in 1910.[34] By 1980 Côte d'Ivoire overtook Ghana as the biggest producer.[35] In both countries, the majority of farms are small and family-owned. Family members, including children, are often expected to work on the farms.[36]

In the 2008–2009 growing year (which runs October through September[37]), 3.54 million tonnes of cocoa beans were produced.[3] African nations produced 2.45 million tonnes (69%), Asia and Oceania 0.61 million tonnes (17%) and the Americas 0.48 million tonnes (14%).[3] Two African nations, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, produce more than half of the world's cocoa, with 1.23 and 0.73 million tonnes respectively (35% and 21%, respectively).[3]

Different metrics are used for chocolate consumption. The Netherlands has the highest monetary amount of cocoa bean imports (US$2.1 billion); it is also one of the main ports into Europe.[3] The United States has highest amount of cocoa powder imports ($220 million); the US has a large amount of cocoa complementary products.[3] The United Kingdom has the highest amount of retail chocolate ($1.3 billion) and is one of the biggest chocolate consumption per capita markets.[3]

Cocoa harvest and processing[edit]

Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening

Cocoa trees are treated with pesticides and fungicides.[38] Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year and occurs over a period of several months to the whole year.[39] Pods are harvested at multiple times during the harvest season because they do not all ripen at once.[39] Pod ripening is judged by pod color, and ripe pods are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole.[39] The pods are opened and wet beans are removed.[38][39] Wet beans are transported to a facility so they can be fermented and dried.[38][40]

Many of these tasks could be hazardous when performed by children, according to the ILO.[12] Mixing and applying chemicals can be hazardous due to pesticide contamination,[38][41] especially because no protective clothing is worn during application.[40][42] Clearing vegetation and harvesting pods can be hazardous because these tasks are often done using machetes, which can cause incision.[38] This skill is part of normal development in children 15 to 17 years old, but is a higher risk in younger children.[40] Many have wounds on their legs where they have cut themselves.[28] Transport of the wet beans can also be hazardous due to long transport distances and heavy loads; hernias and physical injuries can occur.[40][41] The director of the Save the Children Fund described "young children carrying 6 kilograms (13 lb) of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds all over their shoulders."[17]

In 2002, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture investigated the prevalence of child labor in the cocoa industry.[2] They found 284,000 children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa.[2] Of these, 153,000 were children who applied pesticides without protective equipment, others picked pods and opened them to get the beans; 64% of the children were younger than 14 and 40% of the children were girls.[2] Children often began working at 6 am, worked 12-hour days and were beaten regularly.[2]

Education of child laborers[edit]

Child laborers are less likely to attend school. They are kept out of school because families need their help on the farms,[28] and 12-hour workdays[2] make it difficult to attend school. In Côte d'Ivoire, 34 percent of children on cocoa farms attended school compared to 64 percent of children who did not work on farms.[2] Only 33 percent of children from immigrant cocoa workers attended school, while 71 percent of the local children attended school.[2]

Harkin–Engel Protocol[edit]

To combat child slavery in cocoa production, US Representative Eliot Engel introduced a legislative amendment to fund the development of a "no child slavery" label for chocolate products sold in the United States. Senator Tom Harkin proposed an addition to an agriculture bill to label qualified chocolate and cocoa products as "slave free".[43] It was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 291–115,[44] but before it went to the Senate the chocolate makers hired former senators George Mitchell and Bob Dole to lobby against it,[43] and it did not go to a vote.[44] Instead, the chocolate manufacturers reached agreement with the Congressmen to create the Harkin–Engel Protocol[45] to remove child slavery from the industry by July 2005.[43] The voluntary agreement was a commitment by industry groups to develop and implement voluntary standards to certify cocoa produced without the "worst forms of child labor,"[45] and was signed by the heads of major chocolate companies, Congressmen, the Ambassador of Côte d'Ivoire, and others concerned with child labor.[45]

The chocolate makers were to create programs in West Africa to make Africans aware of the consequences of child labor, keeping their children from an education, and child trafficking. The primary incentive for the companies' voluntary participation would be the addition of a "slave free" label.[43] The 2005 deadline was not met,[46][47] and all parties agreed to a three-year extension of the Protocol.[47][48] This extension allowed the cocoa industry more time to implement the Protocol including creating a certification system to address the worst forms of child labor for half of the growing areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.[48][49] By 2008, the industry had collected data forn over half of the areas, as required, but they did not have proper independent verification.[50] In June 2008, the Protocol was extended until the end of 2010. At that time, the industry was required to have full certifications with independent verifications.[48]

The European Union passed a resolution in 2012 to fully implement the Harkin–Engel Protocol and fight child labor in cocoa production.[51] The resolution was criticized by the International Labor Rights Forum for having no legally binding measures and two major chocolate manufacturers claimed they were addressing the problem.[51]

The industry's pledge to reduce child labor in Ivory Coast and Ghana by 70%, as per the Harkin–Engel Protocol, had not been met as of late 2015; the deadline was again extended, to 2020.[9]

Conditions of Cocoa labor[edit]

Income from the cocoa industry for small cocoa farmers is not stable because when the market price of cocoa is low, the price paid to each link in the industry gets lower and cocoa farmers who produce raw products get very little in the chain.[52] In order to keep the cost of cocoa low, cocoa farmers seek the cheapest labor in order to make a profit. In Africa, a cocoa laborer can only make less than 2 dollars per day, which is below the poverty line.[53] Child laborers between the ages 12 to 15 in the cocoa industry work as much as an adult laborer, but they are paid less than adult laborers.[54] Coffee farmers also prefer child laborers because tamed children are more respectful and easier controlled in comparison with adult laborers.[55] A survey conducted by U.S Department of Labor indicates that in 2005, 92 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 15 are involved in heavy load carrying work in the cocoa industry, which can cause open wounds.[56] Child laborers also face physical punishment including withholding meals and beatings, when they cannot meet work expectations or try to escape.[57]

Studies and reports, 2001–2015[edit]

In 2001, the report "A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted" won a George Polk Award. In it were claims that traffickers promised paid work, housing, and education to children who were forced to labour and undergo severe abuse, that some children were held forcibly on farms and worked up to 100 hours per week, and that attempted escapees were beaten. It quoted a former slave: "The beatings were a part of my life" and "when you didn't hurry, you were beaten."[13][15][58][59][60][61] Many Ivorian cocoa plantations use forced labor,[62] and a ship was found near West Africa allegedly carrying child slaves.[62]

A small observational study, published in 2005 and financed by USAID, examines the many health hazards of cocoa production in western Ghana.[42]

In 2006, a study showed many children working on small farms in Côte d'Ivoire, often on family farms. Over 11,000 people working on small Ivorian cocoa farms were surveyed. A report funded by the U.S. Department of Labor concluded that "Industry and the Governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have taken steps to investigate the problem and are implementing projects that address issues identified in the Protocol."[63]

In 2008, in a report featuring responses from Cargill and Hershey's, Fortune magazine reported that "little progress has been made",[47] and in June 2009, the OECD released a position paper on child labor on West African Cocoa Farms,[64] and launched a website on its Regional Cocoa Initiative.[65]

A major report released in 2015 by the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University, funded by the United States Department of Labor, reported a 51% increase in the number of child workers (1.4 million) in the cocoa industry in 2013–14, compared to 2008–09. Those living in "slave-like conditions" increased 10 percent in the same time period (to 1.1 million). The report estimated that over 1.4 million children ages 5 years old to 11 years old were working in agriculture in cocoa-growing areas, approximately 800,000 of them engaged in hazardous work, including working with agricultural chemicals, carrying heavy loads, and working with sharp tools.[7][8]

Child labor, 2015–2018 update[edit]

A study of the issue, published in Fortune magazine in the U.S. in March 2016, concluded that approximately 2.1 million children in West Africa "still do the dangerous and physically taxing work of harvesting cocoa". The report suggested that it would be an uphill battle to improve the situation:

According to the 2015 edition of the Cocoa Barometer, a biennial report examining the economics of cocoa that's published by a consortium of nonprofits, the average farmer in Ghana in the 2013–14 growing season made just 84¢ per day, and farmers in Ivory Coast a mere 50¢. That puts them well below the World Bank's new $1.90 per day standard for extreme poverty, even if you factor in the 13% rise in the price of cocoa last year.

Sona Ebai, the former secretary general of the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries said that eradicating child labor was an immense task and that the chocolate companies' newfound commitment to expanding the investments in cocoa communities are not quite sufficient. ... "Best-case scenario, we're only doing 10% of what's needed. Getting that other 90% won't be easy. ... I think child labor cannot be just the responsibility of industry to solve. I think it's the proverbial all-hands-on-deck: government, civil society, the private sector. And there, you really need leadership."[9]

Reported in 2018, a 3-year pilot program – conducted by Nestlé with 26,000 farmers mostly located in Côte d'Ivoire – observed a 51% decrease in the number of children doing hazardous jobs in cocoa farming.[66] The US Department of Labor formed the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group as a public-private partnership with the governments of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to address child labor practices in the cocoa industry.[67] The International Cocoa Initiative involving major cocoa manufacturers established the Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System intended to monitor thousands of farms in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire for child labor conditions.[68][69] Despite these efforts, goals to reduce child labor in West Africa by 70% before 2020 are frustrated by persistent poverty, absence of schools, expansion of cocoa farmland, and increased demand for cocoa.[68][70]

In April 2018, the Cocoa Barometer 2018 report on the $100-billion industry, said this about the child labor situation: "Not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sectorwide objective of the elimination of child labour, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020". A report later that year by New Food Economy stated that the Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems implemented by the International Cocoa Initiative and its partners has been useful, but "they are currently reaching less than 20 percent of the over two million children impacted".[71]

Class action lawsuits in the US against companies in the cocoa industry have not achieved much success.[72] In 2015, lawuits against Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey's alleged that their products' packaging failed to disclose that production may involve child slave labor. All were dismissed in 2016, although the plaintiffs filed an appeal.[73]

Nestlé’s website, as paraphrased by Mother Jones magazine, states:

The company has built or renovated 42 schools in cocoa-growing communities and has helped support families so they can afford to keep their kids in school rather than sending them off to work and the company has implemented a monitoring system, it says, to identify at-risk children and report the findings back to the company and its suppliers. When alerted to instances of child trafficking or slavery, "we report it to appropriate authorities immediately".[73]

The company said it had spent spent $5.5 million on the problem in 2016.[73] Note too that Nestlé had published a report in 2017 on child labour in the cocoa supply chain, Tackling Child Labour, with additional specifics as to their "approach to addressing this significant, complex and sensitive challenge".[74]

Tulane University professor William Bertrand, a co-author of the 2015 report, made this comment in October 2018 to a journalist working for Mother Jones: "We don't think conditions have changed significantly in terms of the number of children working." The publication concluded that, "despite some positive changes, such as an increase in the amount of finished chocolate sold in the Ivory Coast and Ghana – keeping more of the profits in the local economy – and the introduction of free primary education in the Ivory Coast, broad change is still elusive".[73]

Representation in media and exhibitions[edit]

Video productions:

Books:

  • The Bitter Side of Sweet, a book centered around the fictional story of an enslaved child.

Exhibitions:

  • "Bitter Chocolate Stories"[77] – Exhibition at the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (20 September 2018 – 1 September 2019). The exhibition examines personal stories of child labourers working on Ghana's and Côte d'Ivoire's cocoa plantations.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Lowell J. Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics & the Ethics of Business, Ohio University Press (2005), 308 pages, hardcover ISBN 0-8214-1625-1, trade paperback ISBN 0-8214-1626-X
  • Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate:Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet. Random House Canada (2006), 336 pages, hardcover. ISBN 978-0-679-31319-9 (0-679-31319-2)

External links[edit]