International Cocoa Initiative finds coronavirus causes spike in child labour within supply chains

Studies from the International Cocoa Initiative have found a concerning significant rise in the number of Ivory Coast children carrying out hazardous work within cocoa production. Neill Barston reports.

According to the non profit organisation’s data from a total of 263 cocoa-growing communities, the country had shown a 21% increase in cases of incidents of minors carrying out commercial activity within the sector.

The issue of child labour within the cocoa sector remains a critical matter, with the confectionery sector’s largest businesses committed to joint action in tackling the situation in key producing markets of Ivory Coast and Ghana, which represent two thirds of the industry. However, sector estimates for the two countries have found there are at least two million children working in some form of child labour within the cocoa sector.

Furthermore, one of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals remains the eradication of all forms of child labour by 2025, which the Rainforest Alliance recently expressed hope could be tackled through enhanced monitoring and addressing individual cases from within communities directly.

However, the issue remains particularly prominent, as the Data from ICI’s Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems found an increase in child labour identification from 16% to 19% during the partial Covid-19 lockdown between 17 March and 15 May.

A rapid analysis of data gathered from the International Cocoa Initiative’s Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS) in Côte d’Ivoire suggests a sharp rise in hazardous child labour during the country’s partial lockdown to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which the organisation said was particularly troubling.

ICI’s CLMRS works through Community Facilitators, many of them members of cocoa-growing communities. These facilitators gather information to identify cases of child labour through interviews with families and children. Although the Covid-19 pandemic restricted some of ICI’s work, monitoring visits continued in communities where facilitators were already present, while respecting social distancing guidelines. A total of 1,443 households within 263 communities were visited and 3,223 children interviewed during the partial lockdown. This unique system and structure has enabled ICI to better understand the changes happening on the ground at this unprecedented time.

Results of the analysis show a 21.5% increase in child labour identification, compared to the same period in previous years. The rise in child labour could be due to the closure of schools, restrictions on movement resulting in lower availability of adult labour, an economic downturn impacting cocoa-growing farmers, or a combination of these and other factors.

Furthermore, the organisation said that a separate telephone survey conducted with 515 cocoa producers in Côte d’Ivoire between 2 to 9 June found that over half of respondents reported a decrease in household income since partial lockdown began in March. A recently published review of evidence on the impact of changes in smallholder farmers’ income on child labour also showed that negative income shocks generally tend to increase child labour.

“The rise in hazardous child labour is concerning,” states the report. However, it may be too early to attribute the full impact to the partial Covid-19 lockdown. “In the coming months it will be important to use longer time series data, including from after the lifting of the partial lockdown, as well as more refined econometric tools, to understand to what degree this rise can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to control it.”

These findings highlight the vulnerability of cocoa-growing households in West Africa and show how quickly progress in addressing child labour can potentially be reversed.

“Given the rapidly evolving situation in Côte d’Ivoire, stakeholders in the cocoa sector should consider taking additional action to address the negative impacts of the crisis on cocoa households and their children,” the report concludes.

“The CLMRS generates real-time data which can provide a detailed view of what is happening at the household, farmer and child level in cocoa-growing communities. We hope that the results of this rapid analysis are able to inform decisions taken to improve the lives of the most vulnerable during these difficult times and the resilience of the systems they depend on,” said Nick Weatherill, Executive Director of ICI.

Many of the restrictions on movement have now been relaxed and schools have reopened. But the number of Covid-19 cases in Côte d’Ivoire continues to rise and further negative impacts may still be felt. The report points to the need for further efforts to support the cocoa households cope with future shocks – be they related to income, labour supply, health or climate. In case access to schooling is interrupted again, it is vital that measures are in place so that children can continue learning. Such efforts should include interventions which have been proven to boost resilience and reduce child labour.

These findings also highlight the importance of preparedness to ensure cocoa-growing households are better able to cope with future shocks. Systems to prevent, identify and remediate child labour should be strengthened, so that they can support farming households at times when they need it most.

ICI will further examine the causes of these child labour increases and is exploring a new collaboration with the Jacobs Foundation to pilot innovative ways of responding. Findings will be used to improve the effectiveness and resilience of government, industry and civil society approaches to ensure that children in cocoa-growing communities are better protected from future shocks. Read the report: Hazardous child labour in cocoa communities in Côte d’Ivoire during Covid-19

Key figures and findings
A 21.5% increase in child labour identification during partial lockdown,
The analysis is based on in-person interviews with 5,081 children in cocoa-growing households across 263 communities monitored by ICI’s CLMRS
A telephone survey carried out by ICI found that over half of respondents noted a decline in income since the start of Ivory Coast’s partial lockdown

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