Washington — In an editorial posted on FoodDive to coincide with Valentine’s Day, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) President Richard Scobey addressed concerns surrounding child labor in cocoa farming and what is being done to address them.
In the opinion piece, Scobey stated: “The cocoa and chocolate industry wants to see children in school, not toiling on farms, and has worked for decades with the West African governments to reduce child labor in the supply chain. The results have been mixed, meaning we urgently need a new approach to fix the problem.”
To illustrate the current situation, he pointed to N’Dri Kouadio Pascal, a farmer in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa-producing country. Scobey noted Pascal “is a great example of both the challenges and opportunities of cocoa. Pascal never went to school and as an orphan spent his youth as a child laborer on cocoa farms.” Today he farms his own 23-hectare plot of land in Toinié in southwest Côte d’Ivoire.
“Before I was harvesting three bags and now, I’m doing about 20 bags,” Pascal said. The resulting increase in his income, Scobey points out, means he can send his younger children to school. “Unlike his own childhood, his children do not need to spray the trees with insecticides, carry heavy loads, break pods with machetes or face other risks in cocoa farming work,” Scobey added.
More than 99 percent of all children working on cocoa farms in West Africa do so within their families, stated Scobey, pointing out this is different from forced child labor, which a report showed is extremely rare in the cocoa sector.
Ending child labor requires the work of cocoa-growing communities, governments in cocoa producing countries, the chocolate and cocoa industry, and chocolate-consuming countries around the world, according to the WCF leader. Chocolate companies have invested more than $215 million in the fight against child labor. He pointed to research from the International Cocoa Initiative, which estimates child labor has fallen by about 50 percent among the child laborers identified by its program.
He did note that the problem is larger than the successes, adding that as global demand for chocolate grows, so does cocoa production. This can mean more children working on farms.
Scobey admited: “According to estimates, two million children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are exposed to what the International Labor Organization calls the worst forms of child labor. Industry and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and the United States pledged in 2010 to work together to cut this number by 70 percent by 2020. This goal is not expected to be met.”
Pointing out that corporate initiatives to fight child labor currently reach about 200,000 out of 1.6 million cocoa-farming households, Scobey wrote that the challenge is to expand programs that fight child labor so they tackle the root causes of the problem. These root causes are heavily associated with poverty.
Ultimately, Scobey noted the cocoa and chocolate industry is working with the West African governments in 2020 to take the fight against child labor to a new and much higher level. “New initiatives will seek to combine the work of governments, U.N. agencies and development partners, and civil society to tackle the root causes of child labor in a more direct way. This will include increasing farmer incomes, so they no longer need to use their children as workers. It will also include improving education for children with a significant public-private investment in the school systems in West Africa. Other actions will include expanding health, nutrition and child protection services.”