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Q&A: chocolate and child slavery campaign

How are children affected in the cocoa sector?

Child labour has been well documented on Ivorian cocoa farms for many years. Children farming cocoa spend their day hacking the cocoa from high branches and splitting the pods open with machetes. Many can suffer from injuries as a result. They also use dangerous pesticides and carrying heavy loads as well facing long, punishing hours, and working in the gruelling heat. Although these conditions alone do not constitute slavery, this kind of work is what we call ‘the worst forms of child labour’ as it is extremely hazardous and a risk to the child’s health and well-being. Whilst some children are local working on family farms, many trafficked from neighbouring countries. Trafficking is a form of modern slavery. The US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry work under ‘the worst forms of child labor,’ and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement.

Anti-Slavery International’s recent 2010 report – Ending child trafficking in West Africa – found significant numbers of young people from Mali and Burkina Faso who had worked as children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. They came from extremely poor families and had been recruited by traffickers on the promise of good wages and assistance for travel. Most left for the Ivory Coast at the ages of 12 to 16, although some were as young as 10.

Most of the young people interviewed about their experiences said that the working and living conditions were very poor. They lived in remote cabins, if they were sick other young workers had to look after them, and they were expected to find their own food on the farm.  Some report that they were not allowed to leave, and those that attempted suffered from beatings. Others reported that after a year they asked to be paid so they could leave but the farmers said they had not yet worked enough. Those that do manage to get paid after two to three years of work received much less than expected with some receiving little more than the cost of a bus ticket home, or nothing at all.

What causes child labour in the sector?

Cocoa farmers suffer from unstable global market prices for cocoa which is well beyond their control. They say that if the price they receive for the cocoa they farm is too low they can’t afford to hire labour. Extreme poverty in neighbouring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso also pushes people, including children, to migrate. They are attracted by the perception that the Ivory Coast is a more prosperous country where they will find work.

What can be done to tackle the problem?

Given that the problem of child trafficking, in West Africa generally and in the cocoa sector in particular, is a regional one resulting from a variety of political, social and economic issues, efforts to address it must reflect this. Anti-Slavery’s recent research has identified a number of areas for action to end the problem including localised awareness-raising programmes and greater action from the Government of the Ivory Coast to tackle the problem. However, the global cocoa industry has a responsibility to ensure it is not contributing to, and profiting from, children in slavery. Solutions sought by the industry must be part of a package of measures aimed at preventing the trafficking of children and protecting migrant workers from exploitation.

What action has the cocoa industry taken so far?

Over a decade ago, there was international outcry as the trafficking of children in the West African cocoa sector was brought to the world’s attention. Global chocolate manufacturers signed a voluntary agreement known as the Harkin Engel Protocol, in which they publicly acknowledged the problem of forced child labour in West Africa and committed to a series of steps to eliminate the problem. This included the establishment of an international foundation, the International Cocoa Initiative, which would oversee their efforts, as well as the establishment of a verification system to ensure cocoa products we buy are free from forced labour. The companies failed to meet their first deadline to certify products were free from child labour by 2005 – and were given an extension to July 2008 to certify that 50% of farms in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire are child labour free, which was also missed.

The Protocol was a compromise. The certification system would not involve labelling of products but would be based on sampling and auditing in just some places. This method is based on the assumption that the certification process will drive efforts to address the root causes of the problem.

A number of chocolate manufacturers have taken further action, including the establishment of the Cadbury’s Cocoa Partnership to support community projects in cocoa growing communities in Ghana. A number of brands such as Divine chocolate, as well as mainstream brands such as Cadbury’s and Nestle have also moved to produce products using the Fairtrade certification system. This primarily ensures the cocoa farmers are given a fair price for their produce, thus contributing to improving their living conditions. The Fairtrade certification process also has auditing systems in place to monitor Fairtrade cocoa farms for compliance with international human rights standards. In some instance this has allowed the detection of some of the worst forms of child labour and child trafficking, but there is not a transparent process as to how these abuses are dealt with when identified. Given the social and cultural factors that cause and sustain slavery it is not credible that an economic response, like increasing the price paid to someone who may regard child trafficking as acceptable, will ever be enough to reduce the problems of the labour exploitation and enslavement of children.

Why are we now targeting the cocoa traders?

Most cocoa farms in the Ivory coast are small scale, rather than large plantations, with an estimated 800,000 farms in 18,000 communities. The big three cocoa traders which export cocoa from the Ivory Coast- Cargill, ADM and Barry Callebaut- do not run plantations or employ child workers but they buy the cocoa beans from local Ivorian traders which source their cocoa from the small and remote independent cocoa farms where children in slavery are commonly found, and sell it onto global chocolate companies that make and sell chocolate.

The role of cocoa brokers in this supply chain has long been ignored. While global chocolate manufacturers have taken some responsibility for the conditions in which the cocoa is farmed and have been engaging with some solutions via funding and other initiatives for many years now, the cocoa traders, which derive large profits from cocoa exports to the manufacturers, have remained a silent link in the chain and have quietly sat by and done little to improve conditions.

The global market in cocoa is worth $5.1bn annually. Although cocoa traders say they are acting to end the worst forms of child labour they are yet to translate these words into tangible action and commit significant resources to addressing the problems in comparison to the scale of profits they earn from cocoa exports.

What can you do to stop child labour in cocoa production?

Please support our campaign to call on the major cocoa traders to take more action to end child slavery in the cocoa sector of the Ivory Coast. They need to use their influence and resources to bring about the kind of systemic changes necessary to eliminate child slavery once and for all. As a major part of the global cocoa industry which has remained inactive and invisible for so long, consumers of chocolate can demonstrate that they want slavery in the cocoa sector stamped out, and your pressure can highlight their lack of commitment and make them more accountable.

What chocolate can I buy?

All cocoa products, including chocolate, run the risk of being tainted by child labour and slavery. To achieve a satisfactory standard of ethical production in chocolate means that companies commit to credible and sufficient action against these abuses, not that they make false and unsustainable promises to consumers of being “slavery- free”. Businesses that invest 0.7% of their pre-tax profits from cocoa and chocolate in programmes to support the elimination of child labour are, in the opinion of Anti-Slavery, worthy of our support. With regards to Fairtrade, while it guarantees a premium (money in addition to the price) to cocoa producers thereby helping to reduce poverty in cocoa producing communities, at current it cannot offer an 100% guarantee that no forced or child labour has been used within the process.

Further information:

•    Take action to end child slavery in the chocolate industry (link back to previous action page)
•    Our recent report- Ending Child Trafficking in West Africa: Lessons from the Ivorian cocoa sector
•    The International Cocoa Initiative
•    Tulane University project to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour in the Cocoa Sector 
•    Products of slavery interactive website

take action to end SLAVERY:

boys carrying cocoa

Children are still being trafficked into cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.  “At night it was difficult to sleep because of the pains in my body, and then we had to get up at 04.00 and work until 16.00. I was always tired.” said Abdoulaye from Burkina Faso, who worked on the cocoa farm for several months at the age of nine.
©Nile Sprague /