EU plans for laws tackling forced labour in cocoa supply chains require urgent implementation

While it may not have captured too many global headlines in the past week or two, the Cocoa Coalition’s move to support EU legislation being proposed on tackling forced labour within the industry of great significance.

Getting to the heart of the matter – this essentially concerns prevention of modern day slavery which according to a number of key sources close to the sector, including the International Labour Organisation, which has been monitoring the situation in core markets of Ghana and Ivory Coast, remains a troubling factor within the sector.

Hard data on the topic is hard to come by, and by its very nature, a lot of potential abuses of agricultural systems are hidden in nature, and therefore difficult to quantify – yet as a major television documentary from Channel 4 last year discovered examining the operations of Mondelez in West Africa – despite the company working hard to implement its Cocoa Life sustainability, it alleged clear cases of children and teenagers being trafficked to work on cocoa plantations in the region.

In terms of data, the pandemic years have placed a dent in available research figures, but as an illustration of the extent of the problem, according to the International Cocoa Initiative NGO, a study by Tulane University and Walk Free Foundation in 2018 estimated that 9,600 adults working in cocoa experienced forced labour in Côte d’Ivoire (CDI) between 2013 and 2017. A further 2,000 children were believed to have been forced to work with someone other than a parent. These figures, though alarming, are nowhere near the scale of the total of around 1.5 million children across West Africa who are exposed to hazardous child labour, remain extremely concerning.

What has been the response from governments and industry you might ask? Well, the Harkin Engel protocol dating more than 20 years ago now was supposed to offer a voluntary code that the sector pledged to respond to – and in truth there have been extensive programmes tackling child labour specifically from the majority of major confectionery companies, but still the problem persists. The key to this, in the view of many observers, is the lack of enforcement available in cracking the problem – and this is where the EU’s latest forced labour legislation could make genuine inroads into the issue, forcing European companies to declare that their supply chains are entirely free of such issues.

While governments in the region have also been attempting to address the issue through legislating at a local level, banning forced labour, again it is the issue of sustained enforcement, and indeed the potentially high costs of delivering this that are a key issue. As the Cocoa Coalition of major companies operating in the industry has asserted, such costs must not be met by those working at the sharp end of the farming supply chain – they are clearly finding it difficult enough living on less than $1 a day, below UN poverty levels, so any additional costs placed upon them would be crippling. The sooner such legislation is brought in and fully implemented can only be a strong positive step in the right direction to solving a painful long-term issue that should not be a factor in the 21st century.

Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production

keep in touch @confectionprod or [email protected]

Related content

Leave a reply

Confectionery Production