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December 22, 2014
Child Labor in African Cocoa Industry Persists
    by Robert Kropp

Poverty among cocoa farmers in West Africa has challenged efforts to eradicate child labor, while initiative to benchmark corporations in the agricultural and other industry sectors gains support. First of a two-part series.


In 2011, in a decision hailed by sustainable investors and human rights activists, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of Professor John Ruggie. According to Rev. David Schilling, the director of human rights for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), “This global framework is a significant breakthrough and an indispensable resource for investors in assessing the human rights performance of companies and supporting greater accountability and transparency, not only in their own operations but in their supply chains.”

Egregious inequalities persist, however, as was revealed in a recent report published by the International Labor Rights Forum. Entitled T he Fairness Gap: Farmer Income and Root Cause Solutions to Ending Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry, the report finds that largely due to extreme poverty among cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, child labor remains widespread. Many farming families in the region of West Africa earn no more than $2 a day, a level that prevents those families from hiring help to harvest cocoa at the legal minimum wage. Thus, farmers turn to child labor; and even, especially in Côte d’Ivoire, human trafficking.

“Millions of cocoa farmers with only a handful of global buyers leads to a system in which farmers are voiceless, lacking access to information, and unable to negotiate for a better price,” Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said. “To fix the problems, we must focus on solutions that empower farmers so they can earn their fair share from this incredibly profitable industry.”

Commenting on the report, the nongovernmental organization Green America noted some progress among companies in the $83 billion per year chocolate industry; however, “Company efforts to improve working conditions, schools, and supply certification are getting mixed reviews due to a failure to address the underlying poverty problem in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.”

“Increasing consumer demand for chocolate made without child labor has pushed more and more companies over the past few years to confront their supply chains to understand where their cocoa actually comes from,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, fair labor campaigns director at Green America. “The best way for a company to ensure fair treatment of the farmers who grow its cocoa is to establish long-term and direct relationships with its farmers, and ensure a sustainable price is paid, one that covers all inputs including fertilizers and labor.”

“Although encouraging that companies and governments have recognized a great need for investment in the cocoa sector,” the report concludes, “the interventions must be measured against their ability to empower farmers and improve livelihoods – indicators that represent a sustainable and ethical way of doing business.”

Next: Initiative seeking to benchmark the human rights performance of corporations gains support.

 

 
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