NORC study on child labour in Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa production finds more collaborative work required

A major study into progress on industry measures put in place to tackle child labour in key cocoa supply chains in Ghana and Ivory Coast, has found that while inroads have been made, there is a significant volume of work remaining, writes Neill Barston.

The report from Norc (National Opinion Research Centre) at the University of Chicago, US, was commissioned by the World Cocoa Foundation for an independent examination of key community interventions into improving conditions for those working within the sector.

Originally, it had been expected to be released this summer, but as reported by Reuters agency, Ghana and Ivory Coast governments were said to have objected to some of the methodology used in the analysis of the market that had indicated labour levels had in fact risen within the region, affecting around two million children, rather than that figure being reduced. This led to the research being released in final form this month – which campaigners claimed represented a ‘watering down of targets,’ which Norc has refuted is the case.

Among the key findings of the document, the “Assessment of Effectiveness of Cocoa Industry Interventions in Reducing Child Labour in Cocoa Growing Areas of Ivory Coast and Ghana,’ based on data obtained during 2018/2019, was the fact the 60% increase in cocoa production over the past decade had not seen a corresponding rise in child labour rates.

Notably, the studies, which are linked to the US Labor Department, agreed with earlier research by the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which showed that child labor monitoring and remediation systems supported by companies have the potential to reduce child labor by 50% among identified child labourers.

Some of the other core areas of focus for the ‘industry intervention package’ included child protection and awareness-raising programmes, education infrastructure/material assistance, women’s livelihood support scheme, as well as formation and strengthening of community child protection committees within Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The study formed part of Norc’s full, wider report on the issue, titled ‘Assessing Progress in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Growing Areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, ‘ which found that the reported figures for child labour had in fact decreased. According to its 2018/2019 data on agricultural households, a total of 1.56 million children were engaged in child labour (an estimated 790,000 in Ivory Coast and 770,000 in Ghana), which had reduced from a reported wider industry figure of 2 million several years previously.

From its base figure of 1.56 million, a total of 1.48 million had been exposed to at least one component of what is considered hazardous child labour in cocoa production, including using sharp tools, undertaking land-clearing activities, working long hours or at night, and exposure to agro-chemical products.

This amounted to 45 percent of children living in agricultural households in cocoa growing areas aged 5-17 were found to have engaged in child labor in cocoa production in aggregate across Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (43% for hazardous activity).

The country-specific data indicates that in cocoa growing areas 38 percent of children in Côte d’Ivoire and 55 percent of children in Ghana living in agricultural households were engaged in child labor in cocoa production.  Overall, according to the Norc studies, between 2013-2019, the prevalence rate of child labour in cocoa production among cocoa growing households remained reportedly at a stable average of around 41 percent, and 58 percent in Ghana).

The Norc investigation’s task stems from the Harkin-Engel Protocol, an international agreement signed in 2001, which set out a goal of specifically reducing child labour by 70% in the two nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast that account for 60% of cocoa supplies serving the confectionery sector.

However, the original target remains outstanding, despite the latest progress revealed by the latest studies. This had led to an extension of the protocol’s key deadlines for making its goal being pushed back until 2020, amid a number of individual campaigns from major groups in the sector including Mars, Barry Callebaut, Nestle, Olam and Cargill, which have increasingly worked with the West African countries to improve wider community conditions and infrastructure, as well as recently agreeing a living income differential premium of $400 dollars per tonne to be paid directly to farmers to enable them to make a viable living.

Creating such direct financial assistance has been seen as critical to solving child labour issues, as many smallholder farms making up the vast bulk of the sector often employing young family members to assist with their operations, with many individuals in the industry believed to be working for less than $1 dollar a day, falling significantly short of UN definitions of poverty levels.

Campaigners concerns

The situation has prompted considerable concern from campaign groups, including Mighty Earth, which has claimed that the ongoing coronavirus crisis has worsened the situation over child labour this year, as the industry grapples with the economic impact of market uncertainty and a downward pressure on cocoa prices as consumers spending on segments including confectionery is constrained. According to the group, it believed the pandemic had worsened the situation in the two nations by up to 15-20%, which it claimed to have verified by multiple sources.

Speaking surrounding the report’s release, Todd Larsen, executive co-director of human rights campaign group Green America, believed that in its view, there had been a “20-year failure” from industry to eradicate the problem of child labour based on its targets agreed in 2001.

The organisation joined with four other NGO campaign groups including Mighty Earth, Be Slavery Free, Freedom United and Fair World Project to call for retailers and confectionery companies to push for the enactment of mandatory human rights due diligence laws worldwide, further increase farmer payments and for support schemes to reach 100% of cocoa farms in terms of monitoring and remediation works.

In response, Rick Scobey, president of The World Cocoa Foundation explained to Confectionery Production, that while he acknowledged there remained significant work to be accomplished, he said the WCF believed that genuine progress has been made in addressing the issue of child labour.

He said: “As this report shows, there are today still too many children in cocoa farming doing work for which they are too young, or work that endangers them — and child labor has no place in the cocoa supply chain.

“Child labor remains a persistent challenge in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, despite major efforts by the governments, cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa-growing communities, and development partners. NORC confirms that targets to reduce child labor were set without fully understanding the complexity and scale of a challenge heavily associated with poverty in rural Africa and did not anticipate the significant increase in cocoa production over the past decade.

“It is important to note this report is not about the abhorrent practices of forced child labor or forced adult labor in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which other studies show is extremely rare in the cocoa sector. Government and company programmes to reduce child labor are making a difference. NORC confirms that the more than 60 percent increase in total cocoa production in Ivory Coast and Ghana over the past 10 years did not bring a similar surge in child labor. Government and company programmes led to a reduction in child labour.”

He noted that the research called for the expansion of a package of company measures addressing child labour be expanded to more communities, and said that there was now a greater understanding by stakeholders of what measures were most effective in the fight against child labour.

Scobey added:  “To protect children, leading companies will increase the coverage of child labor monitoring and remediation systems to 100% by 2025, from about 20% in 2019, in their direct supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. To ensure access to quality education, the government of Ivory Coast intends to launch a $120 million pooled funding facility for primary education in partnership with the Jacobs Foundation that aims to reach 5 million children, with $25 million expected from industry.

“To help raise farmers out of poverty, companies have supported the new Living Income Differential pricing policy of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in 2020/21 that will provide an estimated $1.2 billion in additional revenues for cocoa farmers on top of official market prices. To boost household incomes and yields, leading companies will reach 100% coverage by 2025 of all farmers in their direct supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana with training, coaching, or farm development plans on good agricultural practices.”

He added that businesses are already ramping up their investments to fight child labour, which he said supports the implementation of the strong national action plans recently approved by Ivory Coast and Ghana to eliminate child labour.

In 2019, companies invested $65 million in a wide range of social development activities on the issue, covering child protection, education, community development, income diversification for vulnerable households, and other child survival activities – a figure which stands around six-times higher than what was spent a year in 2001-18.


Picture courtesy of Olam: cocoa workers have followed sustainability practices under its ethically focused business operation

Scobey concluded: “Companies are working on a more transformative approach to make sure today’s generation of children are protected from labor on cocoa farms. Companies recognise that child labor is a human rights issue and are determined to take additional measures to protect children in their supply chains, guided by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“Success will require more ambitious partnerships and collaboration. Companies alone cannot solve the problem – we are committed to launching a new public-private partnership with the producing and consuming governments, UN agencies, farmer groups, and civil society organisations to tackle the root causes of child labor, which is heavily associated with poverty. Only by taking this more direct and comprehensive approach can we ensure today’s generation of children reach their full potential and have a chance at the bright future they deserve.

Responding to the release of the report, Mars Wrigley added that it would be continuing to intensify its existing efforts to tackle the issue, which remains directly linked to the wider major problem of poverty within the region.

The company said: “Child labour has no place in the cocoa supply chain which is why Mars Wrigley has committed $1 billion USD as part of its Cocoa for Generations strategy to help fix a broken supply chain. We call for robust public-private collaboration and we support appropriate due diligence legislation to address the root causes of child labor in West Africa cocoa growing communities.

“Mars Wrigley’s Protecting Children Action Plan (PCAP) has four levers that aim to tackle root causes head-on: Robust child labour monitoring and remediation systems (CLMRS) in 100% of at-risk households by 2025. To date, Mars Wrigley has reached an estimated 34,000 households, and is on a path to cover 100 percent of an estimated 180,000 at-risk households in its cocoa supply chain by 2025.

The company added that its wider measures included putting in place Women’s Social and Economic Empowerment through its initiative with its CARE programme, and increasing access to quality education and development opportunities for children through an investment in the Jacobs Foundation.







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