Illegal child labor is alive and well and here’s what we all need to do about it
20 years ago, Big Choco promised to drastically reduce illegal child labor from the cocoa supply chain. Today, millions of children are still working illegally on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The findings of the latest NORC report are alarming, but we believe this is the wake-up call for mandatory legislation and proactively addressing poverty, child labor’s root cause.
It’s official once again: the kids are not alright Shocking but true: 1,56 million children worked illegally in the cocoa supply chain in Ghana and Ivory Coast during the 2018/19 season, according to the latest US government-funded NORC report. Despite repeated industry promises to end this shameful exploitation, the prevalence of illegal child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa has effectively remained the same as five years ago. In fact, the report reveals that in low and medium production areas, child labor has actually increased.
Erm.. wasn't it 2 million kids last time? Good spot! The numbers in the new NORC report are lower. While that seems like a good thing, it’s a little more complicated. Turns out, previous reports gave different weightings to the population, leading to an overestimation. That’s why NORC says it’s best not to compare the numbers, but rather the prevalence. And sadly, the new NORC figures do not imply any reduction in the prevalence rates of children in child labor.
What else did the NORC report uncover? We eat more and more chocolate. That means more cocoa is being produced. So, more profits for Big Choco, and more sweet luxuries for Choco Fans. And, on the other side, more children as young as five engaging in hazardous activities just to survive. Over the past decade, according to NORC, child labor rates increased from 6% to 33% in low cocoa production areas, and from 33% to 50% in medium cocoa production areas. And in 2018/19, on aggregate 1 in 2 children in cocoa growing households were in child labor. It’s clear to say, the industry is not on track. They did not deliver on their word or meet the 2020 target.
What were those promises again? Rewind to 2001, when Big Choco signed the Harkin–Engel protocol, pledging to end the worst forms of child labor within five years. In 2010, after failing to meet their deadlines three times, the pledge was extended to reduce illegal child labor by 70% by 2020. Almost twenty years later, despite numerous voluntary programs and agreements, nothing has changed. It’s fair to say that industry efforts are insufficient and there is no real progress. Time’s up! It’s time for mandatory human rights due diligence legislation.
Why is illegal child labor still happening? We’re still not properly addressing the root cause of illegal child labor: poverty. Children are working illegally because cocoa farmers are unable to earn a living income. Big Choco and big government are the big problem here. Because of them, the cocoa price is set far too low for farmers to survive without unreasonable amounts of support from their children.
Governments globally are just as much to blame. They fail to hold companies 100% accountable for child labor in their supply chains, as they fail to implement human rights due diligence. This lets choco-making companies get away with unfair sourcing and exploitation. Retailers are equally responsible, as their shelf displays dictate what we buy. As are Choco Fans who keep Big Choco in business by buying their products. Yep, even cocoa farmers who don’t uphold children’s rights. We are all part of the problem. And we can all be part of the solution.
But Tony’s always looks for the positive, right? You bet. And amid all the bad news, we did find some encouraging signs. International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has reported that child labor monitoring and remediation systems have the potential to reduce hazardous child labor by 50% among identified child labor cases. Thing is, only 10–20% of cocoa communities in Ghana and Ivory Coast are covered by some form of monitoring and remediation approach. The solution is clear: we need to scale this up.
ICI and its members should raise the bar way higher and use their Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) to cover 100% of their collective supply chains right now, just like we do. On our side, we’ll work harder to keep bringing issues into the open, building trust and working together with cooperatives, farmers, and ICI to shift mindsets and move forward by advocating children’s rights.
So, is CLMRS the one solution to fix it all? Wouldn’t that be sweet? CLMRS is a bold step in the right direction, but to completely and sustainably remove such a complex issue as illegal child labor from a constantly growing largescale system, we need holistic solutions. We need to remember that poverty is the root cause of this issue. And poverty itself is multidimensional; it needs to be tackled from many different angles.
What else will Tony’s be doing to tackle illegal child labor? Happy you asked.. check out these sweet ideas for starters, because they could also involve you:
Recruiting new allies on our mission The more companies that use bean-to bar and source their products according to the 5 Sourcing Principles, the less illegal child labor in the system. We’ve made it easy to follow our example with Tony’s Open Chain: the open source platform for all chocolate companies to join together to make 100% slave-free the norm in chocolate.
Delivering 1 million signatures calling for due diligence legislation We’ll keep working hard to make this world a fairer place to live in by lobbying governments to implement legislation against illegal child labour and modern slavery. Watch out, Brussels, London and Washington, DC!
How can we get everyone to play fair? And, how’s this for great news: you as a Choco Fan have a voice in the matter too. Are you in? You’re already participating with every bite of a Tony’s bar. And, if you haven’t already, you can be an even bigger part of the solution: go sign the petition now!