Adonis Diaries

Child labor in cocoa production

Posted on: May 25, 2015

 

 

 

Children in cocoa production

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Boy collecting cocoa after beans have dried

The widespread use of children in cocoa production is controversial, not only for the concerns about child labor and exploitation, but also because up to 12,000 of the 200,000 children working in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s biggest producer of cocoa,[1] may be victims of trafficking or slavery.[2]

Most attention on this subject has focused on West Africa, which collectively supplies 69 percent of the world’s cocoa,[3] and Côte d’Ivoire in particular, which supplies 35% of the world’s cocoa.[3]

Thirty percent of children under age 15 in sub-Saharan Africa are child laborers, mostly in agricultural activities including cocoa farming.[4]

It is estimated that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in growing cocoa.[5]

Major chocolate producers, such as Nestle, buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa.[6]

Production and consumption statistics[edit]

Cocoa bean output in 2012

In Ghana, the cocoa industry began in the late 19th century[10] and in Côte d’Ivoire it began in the early 20th century.[11]

Ghana became the largest cocoa producer in the world in 1910.[10]

By 1980 Côte d’Ivoire overtook Ghana as the biggest producer.[11] In both countries, the majority of farms are small and family owned. The family members, including the children, are often expected to work on the farms.[12]

In the 2008–2009 growing year (which runs October through September[13]), there were 3.54 million tonnes of cocoa beans produced.[3]

African nations produced 2.45 million tonnes (69%), Asia and Oceania 0.61 million tonnes (17%) and the Americas 0.48 million tonnes (14%).[3] Two African nations, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, produce more than half of the world’s cocoa, with 1.23 and 0.73 million tonnes respectively (35% and 21%, respectively).[3]

Different metrics used for chocolate consumption.

The Netherlands has the highest monetary amount of cocoa bean imports (US$2.1 billion); it is also one of the main ports into Europe.[3]

The United States has highest amount of cocoa powder imports ($220 million); the US has a large amount of cocoa complementary products.[3]

The United Kingdom has the highest amount of retail chocolate ($1.3 billion) and is one of the biggest chocolate consumption per capita markets.[3]

Cocoa plantations in Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Malaysia provide 80% of the world with chocolate, according to CorpWatch.[3] Chocolate producers around the world have been pressured to “verify that their chocolate is not the product of child labor or slavery.”[4]

Children in cocoa harvest and processing[edit]

Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening

Cocoa trees are treated with pesticides and fungicides.[14]

Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year and occurs over a period of several months to the whole year.[15] Pods are harvested at multiple times during the harvest season because they do not all ripen at once.[15]

Pod ripening is judged by pod color, and ripe pods are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole.[15] The pods are opened and wet beans are removed.[14][15] Wet beans are transported to a facility so they can be fermented and dried.[14][16]

Many of these tasks could be hazardous when performed by children, according to the ILO.[9] Mixing and applying chemicals can be hazardous due to pesticide contamination,[14][17] especially because no protective clothing is worn during application.[16]

Clearing vegetation and harvesting pods can be hazardous because these tasks are often done using machetes, which can cause lacerations.[14] This skill is part of normal development in children 15 to 17 years old, but is a higher risk in younger children.[16] Many have wounds on their legs where they have cut themselves.[18] Transport of the wet beans can also be hazardous due to long transport distances and heavy loads; hernias and physical injuries can occur.[16][17]

The director of the Save the Children Fund described “young children carrying 6 kilograms (13 lb) of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds all over their shoulders.”[19]

In 2002, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture investigated the prevalence of child labor in the cocoa industry.[2]

They found 284,000 children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa.[2] Of this, 153,000 children applied pesticides without protective equipment, others picked pods and opened them to get the beans; 64% of the children were younger than 14 and 40% of the children were girls.[2]

Children often began working at 6 am, worked 12-hour days and were beaten regularly

Education of child laborers[edit]

Child laborers are less likely to attend school. They are kept out of school because families need their help on the farms,[18] and 12-hour workdays[2] make it difficult to attend school

. In Côte d’Ivoire, 34 percent of children on cocoa farms attended school compared to 64 percent of children who did not work on farms.[2] Only 33 percent of children from immigrant cocoa workers attended school, while 71 percent of the local children attended school.[2]

Child slavery and trafficking[edit]

In 1998, UNICEF reported that Ivorian farmers used enslaved children—many from surrounding countries.[20] A 2000 BBC documentary described child slavery on commercial cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire.[2][21] In 2001, the US State Department estimated there were 15,000 child slaves in cocoa, cotton, and coffee farms in Côte d’Ivoire,[22] and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association acknowledged that child slavery is used in the cocoa harvest.[22]

Malian migrants have long worked on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire,[23] but in 2000 cocoa prices had dropped to a 10-year low and some farmers stopped paying their employees.[23] The Malian counsel had to rescue some boys who had not been paid for five years and who were beaten if they tried to run away.[23]

Malian officials believed that 15,000 children, some as young as 11 years old, were working in Côte d’Ivoire in 2001.[19] These children were often from poor families or the slums and were sold for “just a few dollars” to work in other countries.[19]

Parents were told the children would find work and send money home, but once the children left home, they often worked in conditions resembling slavery.[2] In other cases, children begging for food were lured from bus stations and sold as slaves.[24]

In 2002, Côte d’Ivoire had 12,000 children with no relatives nearby, which suggested they were trafficked,[2] likely from neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo.[25] According to a 2009 snowball sampling study, the majority of those with childhood cocoa labor experience were trafficked (75% from Burkina Faso and 63% from Mali).[26]

The majority of those who were trafficked had no interaction with police, and 0.5 percent had any contact from institutions that provided social services.[27] Western African nations of Cameroon,[28] Côte d’Ivoire,[29] Ghana[30] and Mali[31] are the 2009 US State Department‘s Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking in part due to the trafficking of children in cocoa production.

Burkina Faso[32] and Togo[33] are rated at Tier 2 in part due to trafficking for cocoa production.

The blame for the slavery in cocoa production has been passed from one group to the next. Those who sell the children to the farmers claimed they did not see the slavery.[20] The Ivorian government accused foreigners of using and selling slaves[20] and blamed multinational chocolate companies for keeping cocoa prices low and farmers in poverty; it claimed the low prices forced some farmers to use slave labor.[1]

The Ivorian prime minister, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, said the price would need to increase 10 times to ensure a good quality of life for the farmers and their families.[1] Farmers who bought slaves blamed the worldwide cost of cocoa.[20] Cocoa suppliers claimed they cannot manage what happens on the farms.[20] Chocolate companies stated that the suppliers needed to provide cocoa that was not produced by slaves.[20] Consumers did not know that their chocolate was produced using slave labor.[20]

In 2001, due to pressure applied by the US Congress and potential US and UK boycotts,[2] the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eliminating forced child labor.[18] In 2012, Ferrero and Mars promised that they will end cocoa slavery by 2020.[34][35][36]
In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a report on labor conditions around the world[37] in which a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor mentioned 6 countries (among a total of 74) where the cocoa industry employed underage children and indentured laborers. Instances of child labor were reported in 4 of the listed countries namely Cameroon, Ghana, Guniea and Sierra Leone. The others (Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria) resorted to both child labor and forced labor.

Harkin-Engel Protocol[edit]

Main article: Harkin-Engel Protocol

To combat the child slavery in cocoa production, US Representative Eliot Engel introduced a legislative amendment to fund the development of a “no child slavery” label for chocolate products sold in the United States. Senator Tom Harkin proposed an addition to an agriculture bill to label qualified chocolate and cocoa products as “slave free”.[38]

It was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 291–115,[39] but before it went to the Senate the chocolate makers hired former senators George Mitchell and Bob Dole to lobby against it,[38] and it did not go to a vote.[39] Instead, the chocolate manufactures agreed with the Congressmen to create the Harkin-Engel Protocol[40] to remove child slavery from the industry by July 2005.[38]

The voluntary agreement was a commitment by the industry groups to develop and implement voluntary standards to certify cocoa produced without the “worst forms of child labor,”[40] and was signed by the heads of major chocolate companies, Congressmen, the Ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire, and others concerned with child labor.[40]

The chocolate makers were to create programs in West Africa to make Africans aware of the consequences of child labor, keeping their children from an education, and child trafficking. The primary incentive for the companies’ voluntary participation would be the addition of a “slave free” label.[38] The 2005 deadline was not met,[41][42] and all parties agreed to a three-year extension of the Protocol.[42][43]

This extension allowed the cocoa industry more time to implement the Protocol including creating a certification system to address the worst forms of child labor for half of the growing areas in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.[43][44]

By 2008, industry had collected data on over half of the areas, as required, but they did not have proper independent verification.[45] In June 2008, the Protocol was extended until the end of 2010. At that time, the industry was required to have full certifications with independent verifications.[43]

The European Union passed a resolution in 2012 to fully implement the Harkin-Engel Protocol and fight child labor in cocoa production.[46]

The resolution was criticized by the International Labor Rights Forum for having no legally binding measures and two major chocolate manufacturers claimed they were addressing the problem.[46]

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