background: cocoa and chocolate
Forced labour in the cocoa industry
In 2000, the world's attention was drawn to the plight of young men and boys trafficked between countries in West Africa, including Côte d'Ivoire, and used as forced labour on cocoa farms. This situation was highlighted by a British film crew, but it was not clear how widespread the problem was. As West Africa provides most of the world's cocoa, consumers faced the possibility that some of the chocolate they eat has been produced by forced labour. Four years on, we revisit this issue, and ask what do we know, what action has been taken, and what still needs to be done to tackle these abuses.
What we know
Under the terms of the Cocoa Protocol (see below), a survey was carried out by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) into labour conditions in Côte d'Ivoire. The results were published in July 2002. These results claimed that over 200,000 children were working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms. A smaller percentage was reported to have been trafficked from neighbouring countries. However, questions have been raised as to the validity of the survey because of the methodology used.
In 2002 and 2003, small independent investigations in some of the cocoa producing areas of Côte d'Ivoire revealed ongoing abuse. During the high season, farmers contract in extra labour. Researchers found that children and young men employed in this way had often been trafficked from neighbouring countries including Burkina Faso and Mali.
These researchers also found that few farmers were aware of trafficking issues and the fact that it is illegal to employ children in this way. Both governments and the cocoa industry have done little to inform farmers of the laws concerning forced labour and the employment of child labour.
Full details of the IITA survey have now been made available, as a result of letters from Anti-Slavery International's campaigners. This is very welcome progress and will enable issues around the survey's findings to be resolved and lessons learnt. There still needs to be more investigation of labour practices to ascertain the extent of the problem.
What has been done?
The spotlight of international media spurred the industry into action. By September 2001 a basic agreement, known as the Cocoa Protocol, had been reached between the cocoa industry, human rights organisations and trade unions. These parties signed a binding Memorandum of Co-operation in 2002. The terms of the Protocol stated that research would be carried out into labour conditions in Côte d'Ivoire (see above).
The Protocol has also established the International Cocoa Initiative, whose role is to encourage and support responsible cocoa farming.
The final step agreed by the Protocol poses a real challenge: to establish an independent verification system to ensure the cocoa products we buy are free from forced labour. Work began on developing this system in February this year.
The question of forced labour in cocoa has to be understood in the broader context of human trafficking throughout West Africa. Anti-Slavery International has been working with partner organisations in West Africa for many years, seeking to raise awareness and to form a network of groups combating child trafficking. There have also been some positive government initiatives. The Government of Côte d'Ivoire made an agreement with the Government of Mali to combat trafficking, and has worked with the police to increase their effectiveness. Most importantly, West African governments drew up a Plan of Action against human trafficking in December 2001. The International Labour Organization is also working with governments in the region on a programme to combat child trafficking.
Public awareness about forced labour in the cocoa industry has driven a remarkable series of actions, from the Cocoa Protocol to the governments' Plan of Action. This shows how the concern of consumers around the world can have a positive impact on such exploitation. But it is vital that we keep the pressure up, to ensure we get a full picture of the extent and nature of the problem, and that the initiatives taken are translated into real improvements in the lives of those being exploited.
While work continues to rid the cocoa industry of forced and exploited labour, the only way consumers can be confident that the goods they purchase are made under fair conditions is by buying products that carry the fair trade label. Today there are labelling initiatives in 17 countries, mainly in Europe and North America. Since the Fairtrade mark was launched in the UK 10 years ago, sales have grown between 40 and 90 per cent a year, expanding from a single variety of coffee to over 250 brands of food and drink. Increased demand for fair trade chocolate demonstrates to small farmers and their co-operatives that people are willing to pay a fair price for their produce and would ensure the system grows and more farmers and workers are helped. It also shows the large chocolate companies that consumers are committed to ethical purchasing.Take action
to be part of the solution
For more information see our cocoa report 2004.pdf (1361.96KB)
If you have already had a reply from one of the chocolate companies, you can find out further information on how to respond to them by emailing Kate Willingham at firstname.lastname@example.org