child labour

The BBC ran a story last week returning to the issue of child labour on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire.

Humphrey Hawksley in Côte d'Ivoire

Humphrey Hawksley opens the short news video by observing: “Deep in the cocoa belt of the Ivory Coast, it’s not hard to find children at work.” He then goes on to interview a farmer, some children, and a chocolate industry PR representative.

The first stories of child slavery in the Ivory Coast hit the news over a decade ago. Then in 2001, the major players in the global chocolate industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary code of self-regulation drawn up by industry to avert proposed “slave free” labelling legislation in the US.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol provided for the creation of a foundation - the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) - to tackle child labour, and pledged to develop a certification system that would ensure chocolate was free from the worst forms of child labour.

The impact of these efforts have since been assessed through the authoritative Tulane University studies. Their final report was released earlier this year and concluded that while there has been action from the chocolate industry and “significant evidence of impact”, the funding has simply not been sufficient to achieve their stated goals.

Less than 5% of children and their caregivers surveyed in Ghana and Ivory Coast have reported exposure to industry programmes to tackle child labour. That gives an idea of the scale of what still needs to be done. At Trading Visions, we've estimated that the big industry players commit no more than 0.1% or 0.2% of their chocolate sales turnover to "social investment" in cocoa farmers' livelihoods.

The run up to Easter, when the British prepare to chomp their way through 80m Easter eggs, is the traditional time of year for guilt fuelled exposés of the continuing problem of child labour in the cocoa industry.

A recently aired Panorama documentary sees a renewed media focus on the issue in the UK, one of many since harrowing stories of West African child slaves first came to global public attention ten years ago.

That original media and public outcry paved the way for the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary code of self-regulation that has defined chocolate industry efforts to tackle the worse forms of child labour in the supply chain over the past nine years.

Children and chocolate have long been associated; it is because chocolate is such a potent symbol of the innocent joys of childhood that revelations about children being trafficked or forced to undertake hazardous and excessive work on cocoa farms are so incendiary.

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.