ICI reveals major plans tackling child labour in 2026 strategy

The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has unveiled its 2020 annual report detailing progress tackling child labour, reaching over 422,000 children across five years in Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa communities, writes Neill Barston.

As the Swiss-based non-profit foundation noted, its latest study paves the way for a new strategy covering 2021-2026, which has set a core goal of scaling up its actions further within the sector.

The organisation aims to reach all children considered at risk by 2025, with its actions coming in the UN’s year of eradication of child labour.

Its initiatives come in the wake of a major report from the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago (NORC), revealing that 1.56 million minors are still engaged in child labour in the cocoa sectors of these two countries – with charities in the sector highlighting estimates that the issue has worsened between 15-20% amid the pandemic.

Significantly, according the NORC report, there had been a 62% increase in cocoa production between 2008-2019, which resulted in the prevalence of child labour increasing 14% across all agricultural households, with hazardous labour rising by a concerning total of 13%, against a backdrop of many farmers reportedly earning less than $1 a day, well below UN-defined poverty levels.

The latest ICI study noted that the covid-19 crisis severely impacted farming communities and the cocoa sector’s sustainability operations.

However, despite the challenges encountered, ICI’s 2020 Annual Report believed that there is solid evidence of progress and impact – though charities including Fairtrade have expressed concern that rapidly declining cocoa prices in West Africa have potentially further worsened child labour issues.

In its 2020 report, ICI confirmed it has exceeded its target of 375,000 children between 2015-2020, with conditions reportedly improving for them through community development work, and labour monitoring and remediation systems (CLMRS) that have been implemented by its members and partners.

As ICI added, it believed these systems had proved their effectiveness at reducing child labour in cocoa-growing areas, findings which were corroborated by a sub-study conducted by NORC in 2020 that documented a 30% reduction in child labour in communities where industry-backed child protection interventions have been in place for three years or more.

In addition, a recent external evaluation of ICI’s Advocacy work confirms ICI’s credibility and impact as an influential technical expert over the 2015-2020 period. It underlines the importance of ICI’s operational experience in enabling the organisation to help align standards and approaches within the sector, to develop a common language and definitions relating to the challenge, and to prove a catalyst for the upscaling of defined good practices. The evaluation will be available later in 2021.

Ongoing issues

ICI added that the challenges facing the cocoa sector had been seriously exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the organisation stating its ‘keen awareness’  of the need for greater alignment, increased engagement and investment from all actors within the sector, and greater transparency and accountability from all stakeholders.

Notably, ICI’s studies found that the last five years have also revealed that there are real, if localised, risks of forced labour in the cocoa supply chain that need to be addressed, that required urgent exploration to understand the root causes.

To that end, ICI said its strategy would help address the risks of forced labour to cover 100% of the supply chain in Ivory Coast and Ghana by 2025.

Towards the scale-up of action across the West African cocoa supply chain
ICI’s 2021-2026 Strategy will help address the continuing challenges facing the cocoa sector and drive the scale up of effective systems that prevent and address child labour and the risk of forced labour to cover 100% of the cocoa supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025.

As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, this new strategic cycle has already been launched with a pledge from ICI and its members to scale-up child protection systems to cover 540,000 cocoa-growing households in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by the end of 2021, representing an estimated 30% of the cocoa supply chain in those countries.

ICI’s annual report underlines the necessity of this scale up and highlights the importance of innovation and learning for the journey ahead.

It explains the work ICI is currently undertaking to understand child labour risk at community and household level so as to better target remediation efforts where they are needed most; to test and assess the impact of cash transfers as a form of child labour remediation; and to develop tools for the cocoa sector to address the risks of forced labour.

“What we have learned over the past five years has directly fed and fuelled our new strategy. We have seen that interventions are working and we have seen real change for children and their families on the ground, where those interventions are implemented. But with the sobering findings from the 2020 NORC report and the disruptive potential of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, the need for greater action is paramount” said Nick Weatherill, ICI’s Executive Director.

“We are launching this annual report in the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, a pivotal opportunity to build momentum and ramp up the fight against child labour at a time when ongoing discussions around human rights due diligence are adding impetus and urgency to the expansion of accountable action. The results highlighted in this report and the roadmap set out in our new strategy demonstrate that we are on the right track, and represent a critically important call for action to be scaled up across the entire cocoa supply chain.” The report can be read in full here.

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