A BBC Panorama documentary filmed in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire was aired last night that highlighted the continuing problem of child labour in the cocoa industry, ten years after the issue was brought to global media attention with harrowing stories of West African child slaves in 2000 and 2001.
It has been nine years since international public concern led to the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary code of self-regulation created by the chocolate industry to prevent the worst forms of child labour in the supply chain. The protocol was originally created to stave off proposed US legislation that would have required all chocolate sold in America to state on the label that it is “child slave labour free”. Unfortunately, little progress has been made.
The focus in the Panorama documentary on incidences of child labour among farmers supplying cocoa to two Fairtrade cooperatives in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire reminds us that the Fairtrade Mark does not guarantee “no child labour”, it guarantees a fair price to farmers and a Fairtrade premium to farmers' organisations. However Fairtrade does clearly emerge in the documentary as the only credible system that can trace cocoa back to individual farms and thus take remedial action when breaches of standards on child labour are identified.
Kuapa Kokoo, the Ghanaian farmers’ cooperative that owns 45% of Divine Chocolate, takes child labour issues very seriously and has been working for some time to address them. A recent statement from the cooperative summarises their robust and comprehensive response to child labour on cocoa farms.
The Panorama documentary shows Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives working constructively and concretely to tackle child labour issues, but the impression from interviews of representatives of the broader chocolate industry is that they are still just trying to diffuse as much criticism as possible by talking up the intractable complexity of the supply chain. This is an approach that sees child labour as a PR issue rather than as a symptom of poverty and an unjust trade system.
"Child labour is understood in the Fairtrade system not only as problems faced by individual children and their families, but also as problems perpetuated by poverty and unfair terms of trade. That’s why the focus of Fairtrade is to strengthen the position of farmers and workers in international supply chains, help them to become organized within their communities as well as to earn a better deal from the sale of their produce."
- Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) position paper on child labour.