June 12th is the International Day Against Child Labor. On this day, as a large group of civil society organizations working on human rights in the cocoa sector across the world, we urgently call on chocolate & cocoa companies and governments to start living up to decades-old promises. The cocoa sector must come with ambitious plans to develop transparent and accountable solutions for current and future generations of children in cocoa communities.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the chocolate industry’s promise to end child labor in the cocoa sector of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, a commitment they made under the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol and renewed again with the 2010 Framework of Action. Furthermore, it is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor.
This year should have been a landmark in the fight against child labor in cocoa. Instead, the cocoa sector as a whole has been conspicuously quiet on this topic.
Child labor is still a reality on West African cocoa farms, and there is strong evidence that forced labor continues in the sector as well. Recent reports – such as Ghana’s GLSS 7 survey and the study of the University of Chicago commissioned by the United States government – show that close to 1.5 million children are engaged in hazardous or age-inappropriate work on cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The vast majority of these child laborers are exposed to the worst forms of child labor, such as carrying heavy loads, working with dangerous tools and increasing exposure to harmful agrochemicals.
After two decades of rhetoric, voluntary initiatives, and pilot projects, it is clearer than ever that ambitious, sector-wide action is needed, coupled with binding regulations, to address both child labor and the poverty that lies at its root.
These solutions must include regulations for mandatory human rights due diligence for companies operating in all major cocoa consuming countries, including avenues for legal remedy in those companies’ home countries. We note with interest the developments around regulations in the EU, although the announced delays are concerning. We also observe that the United States - the world’s number one cocoa consuming country - is particularly lagging in regulatory developments on this issue.
The industry, however, cannot use a lack of regulation as an excuse not to shoulder their own responsibility. As such, every chocolate and cocoa company should have a system in place that monitors and remediates child labor in all of their value chains with a child labor risk. The impact of these systems must be communicated publicly and transparently in a way that enables meaningful participation and access to remedy for workers and their representatives.
In parallel, effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries are needed to work on the necessary enabling environment. These must be developed in a much more inclusive manner than previous attempts, bringing in civil society organizations, independent trade unions, local communities and farmer representatives. Adequate resources must be provided to enable these local actors to participate as equals in the development and implementation of solutions.
Child labor can only be effectively tackled if its root causes are also adequately addressed. As such, the cocoa sector must ensure that child labor approaches are deeply embedded into realistic and ambitious strategies to achieve a living income for all cocoa households. Such strategies must include the payment of fair and just remuneration at the farm gate; prices need to be sufficient to provide a living income. There are clear calculations available for Living Income Reference Prices, which are not even close to being met.
In all, this process must deliver time bound and measurable action plans that are ambitious enough to cover the full scope of the challenge ahead.
It is time that the cocoa sector lived up to its promises and started to deliver on a sector wide and ambitious plan to tackle child labor and poverty. The industry’s collective silence this year is shameful and inappropriate.
- ABVV/FGTB HORVAL – Belgium
- Action against Child Exploitation (ACE) – Japan
- Be Slavery Free – Australia
- Child Labor Coalition - United States
- Conservation Alliance International – Ghana
- COOP Ecam - Côte d'Ivoire
- COOPASA - Côte d'Ivoire
- EcoCare Ghana – Ghana
- Fair Trade Advocacy Office – Belgium
- Fair World Project - United States
- Fairtrade – Global
- Forum Fairer Handel e.V. – Germany
- Freedom United – Global
- Global Media Foundation – Ghana
- Green America - United States
- Inades Formation - Côte d'Ivoire
- Indigenous Women Empowerment Network – Ghana
- INKOTA-netzwerk – Germany
- International Rights Advocates - United States
- ISCC – Germany
- Mighty Earth - United States
- ONG GAYA - Côte d'Ivoire
- Oxfam – Global
- Public Eye – Switzerland
- Rainforest Alliance – Global
- Réseau des Jeunes Entrepreneurs de Côte d'Ivoire (REJECI) – Côte d'Ivoire
- Réseau Ivoirien du Commerce Équitable – Côte d'Ivoire
- SchokoFair-Stoppt Kinderarbeit! – Germany
- SEND GHANA – Ghana
- Solidaridad – Netherlands
- Solidaridad West Africa – Ghana
- Südwind – Austria
- SÜDWIND-Institute – Germany
- The Human Trafficking Legal Center - United States
- Tropenbos Ghana – Ghana
- VOICE Network – Global
- World Fair Trade Organization – Global