Tony’s Chocolonely voices concerns over NORC report revelations on child labour in cocoa supply chains

Ethically-focused chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely, has added to industry concerns over the levels of child labour remaining in key West African cocoa supply chains, as revealed in the freshly released US NORC report last week, writes Neill Barston

As the study revealed, a total of 1.56 million minors were identified as working within the sector in Ghana and Ivory Coast, despite considerable efforts from major manufacturers, civil organisations and the region’s governments.

According to Tony’s Chocolonely, the figure of those still in child labour is in fact higher than this given the additional victims of child trafficking and forced child labour, often brought in from other countries, which the confectionery business believed that mandatory human rights due diligence legislation. Sector campaigners have also highlighted the fact that the impact of the coronavirus over the past six months has also resulted in the situation of child labour worsening by 15-20%.

In addition, the Amsterdam-founded confectionery brand also strongly recommends a sector-wide rollout of  the Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System, developed by the International Cocoa Cocoa Initiative (ICI), to successfully find and remediate illegal child labour.

“The outcome of the NORC report doesn’t surprise us, it’s depressing.”  Paul Schoenmakers, Head of Impact at Tony’s Chocolonely. “No child should be doing hazardous work to make a luxury product like chocolate.  Almost twenty years later, despite numerous voluntary programs and agreements, nothing has changed. In fact, the report reveals that in low and medium production areas, child labor has actually increased. Time’s up.”

“The real problem in the chocolate industry, is inequality,” adds Thecla Schaeffer, Head of Marketing at Tony’s Chocolonely. “Hundreds of thousands of farmers, and millions of children as young as five are suffering daily just to try and survive, while someone else enjoys the profit and can indulge in a sweet luxury. That is unfair, period. We all – and I mean everyone – can be part of the solution and not just demand but create actual change. If exploitation leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, don’t buy or make products that support a system of inequality. Tony’s Chocolonely is committed to leading by example and creating awareness about the root cause of the issue — poverty — so we can all take effective action.”

As previously reported by Confectionery Production, one of the leading civil organisations involved in seeking to bring about change in Ghana and Ivory Coast, which account for around 60% of the cocoa trade, is the World Cocoa Foundation. The organisation has championed targeted support to farming communities as a key means of driving change, and in its view, manufacturers and governments have demonstrated a willingness to engage on the issue and have been actively seeking resolutions to labour issues as part of tackling wider poverty-linked issues.

The organisation’s president Rick Scobey said:  “As this (NORC) 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 labour 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.”

Major issue

As Tony’s Chocolonely added, poverty is a complex issue, and it needs to be tackled from all angles, from systemic fairness to improved productivity. In its view, paying a higher price for cocoa is just one example. It’s a difference of pocket change for chocolate fans, but it makes real change for millions of cocoa famers and their families – which has led to Ivory Coast and Ghana governments to introduce its living differential policy of seeking a buying premium of $400 a tonne extra per tonne for manufacturers, that is intended to be directly distributed to farmers, which in turn is hoped will reduce instances of child labour.

Furthermore, the Tony’s added that while it welcomed all drives to eliminate child labour, in its view the NORC report findings make it clear that the industry require a greater intensity of sustained and combined action.

Schoenmakers explained: “Eradicating illegal child labor from the cocoa supply chain takes a holistic approach, which we have laid down in Tony’s 5 Sourcing Principles. They are applicable for all chocolate producers and we support them in joining our way of working via Tony’s Open Chain.”

He added: “The biggest problem that needs to be addressed is not in Africa, it’s in the West: getting companies to put basic children’s rights before profit. That should not be a matter of choice for companies,” added Schoenmakers, “We need human rights legislation that holds companies accountable for abuse in their supply chain.”

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