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Child labour in the cocoa sector

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is key to tackling child labour in West Africa’s cocoa sector

20th March 2017
Sponsored feature

Child labour in the cocoa sector

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is key to tackling child labour in West Africa’s cocoa sector

Nick Weatherill, Executive Director, International Cocoa Initiative

Cocoa is a cash crop on which 14 million people worldwide depend for their livelihoods. The majority of cocoa growers live in West Africa, the region responsible for 70% of 
global cocoa production. Around four million tonnes of cocoa are produced each year to meet the demand driven by the appetite of a billion consumers. With a massive global appetite for chocolate, the potential of cocoa to support and transform the lives of those who grow it has never been greater.

However, most small-scale farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (the two top producers of cocoa) live below the poverty line on less than one dollar a day. They work hard at the bottom of a fragmented and complex supply chain implicating buyers, traders, shipping and processing companies, manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

Cocoa-growing communities, like most rural communities in the region, also have limited access to basic social services like education, clean water, health, sanitation and road infrastructure. As a result, many farmers have little alternative to taking their children to help out on the family farm, often in hazardous conditions or to the detriment of their schooling, a harsh reality that is both unacceptable from a children’s rights perspective, and increasingly distasteful to those that manufacture and consume chocolate.

The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) is a non-profit foundation created to tackle the complex issue of child labour in the cocoa supply chain. We unite the cocoa industry, the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, civil society organisations, unions, academics and farming communities.

We harness their diverse skills and influences to define and promote holistic responses that tackle all the multiple root-causes of child labour simultaneously, through responsible supply-chain management and child-centred community development. Our operational experience on-the-ground in more than 600 cocoa communities and almost 100 farmers’ cooperatives (with more than 60,000 member farmers) has helped us isolate a combination of interventions that bring results and promise.

Across many of the communities where we work, we’ve seen the number of children enrolled in school increase by more than 20%, and we believe that our community child protection model can deliver a 20-40% reduction in child labour. In the supply-chain, our innovative child labour monitoring and remediation approach (CLMRS) is identifying approximately 70% of suspected child labour cases, allowing those children to be assisted with an estimated 60% success rate in taking them out of child labour over a three-year period. This is encouraging.

However, child labour in cocoa and, more broadly, in African smallholder agriculture is both prevalent and widespread – an estimated 2.1 million children, or one in three children living in cocoa-growing areas – work in unacceptable conditions in the cocoa sectors of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. With approximately 20,000 cocoa-growing communities and two million cocoa-farming households at risk, the scale at which our models have been applied, to date, is still modest, and is eclipsed by the much greater size of the problem.

Step-change needed
The aspiration of all ICI’s stakeholders to contribute meaningfully and purposefully to the highly ambitious SDG 8.7 (to eliminate all forms of child labour by 2025) clearly requires a step-change in the scale and coverage of our efforts.

It is our conviction that multi-stakeholder collaboration – between companies, governments of cocoa producing and consuming countries, civil society, development actors and the farming communities themselves – is the key to delivering sector-wide change. Based on principles of transparency and shared learning, non-competitive collaboration between companies allows them not only to combine skillsets, pool resources and expand their collective coverage, but also to share risk.

The cocoa industry is poised at an interesting moment in the relatively short history of social responsibility. New legally binding requirements (e.g. the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act) and voluntary guidelines (e.g. the 2012 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) are all encouraging companies to change the way they conduct their business operations, look deeper into their supply-chains, and seek out negative human rights and child rights impacts.

They increasingly accept an obligation to address any such impacts that they cause (e.g. child labourers in factories owned or contracted by the company), but also, importantly, to contribute to solutions for issues that their businesses are in some way linked to, even if they don’t directly cause them (e.g. child labourers on family farms in communities where there is no school).

The ostrich’s days of burying its head in the sand are numbered. But this refined definition of due diligence, combined with increasing calls for transparency and public reporting, brings significant risks for companies when, elsewhere, expectations for “full-compliance” or “absolute purity” still abound. Thus, an irony emerges whereby the companies that most embrace responsible and transparent due diligence in their supply-chains, are still more exposed to legal or reputational consequence than those that hide and do nothing.

Our collaborative model helps break through this dilemma, giving solidarity and a strength in numbers in the face of what must be a genuine strategic dilemma for company managers.

Collective learning
The collective learning that our model inspires allows the experience of, say, one pioneering company that has tested a specific innovation to be observed by others, for its impact to be appreciated, for any negative fallout to be evaluated, and for a collective definition of sound practice to emerge. This is all the more powerful and credible when, as happens in ICI, those engaged in the collective learning process include non-corporate stakeholders and experts from civil society and the development community.

Our experience with CLMRS exemplifies this. In 2012, one company engaged ICI to jointly develop a methodology to better identify child labour in its cocoa supply chain, and contribute to solutions through remediation activities. In that year, it was piloted in Côte d’Ivoire with 1,000 farmers.

Since then the company has publicly reported on progress and has permitted a full disclosure of results achieved, and challenges encountered in the ICI forum. Its experience has over time fed a collective realisation that change is possible, and that any risks incurred are outweighed by social impacts and positive reputational returns.

CLMRS emerged as a collectively defined good practice that was then adopted by nine chocolate and cocoa companies in their aligned 2015 CocoaAction Strategy, with a commitment to extend CLMRS coverage to 300,000 farmers by 2020. In 2017, ICI expects to support seven of its member companies to pilot and embed CLMRS within their supply-chains in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, reaching almost 100,000 farmers.

Other ICI members are implementing other variations of CLMRS, allowing the innovation to evolve while still feeding their results into an ongoing, collective learning process.

This inspiring five-year journey from one company with 1,000 farmers, to seven companies with almost 100,000 farmers, has collaboration at its core. So it is all the more encouraging that, nestled among the many purposeful SDGs that call for urgent outcomes and results, SDG 17 recognises the centrality of partnerships to achieving those results, with SDG targets 17.16 and 17.17 explicitly calling for the strengthening of public-private and multi-stakeholder collaborations.

Corralling the interests and experiences of diverse actors into an aligned, effective and efficient strategy is not necessarily an easy job, but ICI shows that it works.