In June 2019, the Washington Post published a damning expose on cocoa farming child labor, an issue that is still persistent in West Africa. Over 2 million children engage in hazardous child labor in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the two largest producers of cocoa. You may or may not have known this, but the chocolate companies definitely did – and have not done much to address this issue in 18 years.
18 Years of Broken Promises
The Washington Post notes, “The world’s chocolate companies have missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010. Next year, they face another target date and, industry officials indicate, they probably will miss that, too.” And not only will chocolate companies be missing another pledge to eliminate child labor, they have also lowered their goals – while the goals in 2001, 2008, and 2010 were to completely eradicate child labor, the 2020 goal is to reduce it by 70%.
Part of the challenge is that many interventions and plans were not able – or did not – address the root cause of child labor: extreme poverty. Many cocoa farms are small, and according to Fairtrade International, a farmer’s annual household income is $1,900 – well below the family poverty line as defined by the World Bank.
Another challenge is that companies started overly relying on certifications such as Fairtrade America, Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, and Utz as sources of sustainable chocolate. (Note: The latter two merged and will be releasing a new set of standards in 2019 under the name Rainforest Alliance). While certifications are helpful tools, they are not the silver bullets to addressing the root causes of child labor, such as farmer poverty and low wages. Furthermore, due to the remote nature of many cocoa farms, site visits happen occasionally and with advanced notice, allowing child labor to be hidden. Major companies cannot trace most of their beans to the sources.
Now, even the major companies, such as Mars and Hershey, have acknowledged that certification labels are not enough to address farmer poverty or child labor, nor are they strong enough indicators of a lack of child labor.
“We are hungry, and we make just a small amount of money.”
In the expose, the Washington Post also conducted interviews with child laborers working on Ivorian cocoa farms. One boy tells the reporter he’s 19; when the farmer who oversees him isn’t looking, he informs the reporter he’s only 15. The reporter also talked to boys who started working at ages as young as 11.
When we say work, we don’t mean a child helping out with age appropriate tasks after school. We’re talking about long days spent doing hard labor such as carrying heavy loads, wielding machetes, or applying pesticides -- often in hot temperatures.
Some child laborers come from neighboring countries, such as Burkina Faso, looking for better opportunities for work and a chance at a better life, earning about $0.85 a day. Others work on family farms if their families can’t afford the costs of sending them to school or hiring extra help.
And despite almost 20 years of industry efforts to curb this issue, the number of children engaged in child labor has actually increased; meanwhile, farmer poverty continues to be a pressing issue.
What can I do?
Take (and share!) our Godiva action: As the Washington Post noted, Godiva does not disclose much information about the cocoa it is sourcing for its chocolate, and hasn’t done as much as its competitors to address child labor and its underlying systemic causes. Take our action today and tell Godiva that it must step up its efforts.
Check out our chocolate scorecard: Our scorecard rates the major companies on their efforts to address child labor as well as gives you some ideas for more ethical alternatives you can shop from to get your sweet tooth fix. Reach out to your favorite companies and tell them that you expect them to do more for farmers. Shopping for fair trade chocolate—like your coffee—is a great way to vote with your dollars.
Support chocolate companies who are going the distance for cocoa farmers: Rather than boycott chocolate completely, we encourage you to support companies that are going the extra mile to support farmers. Green America’s scorecard and our Green Business Network are excellent resources. If you’re not sure what a company is doing to improve farmer income and combat child labor, ask!
Share this information with your networks: Companies started to source certified cocoa because of consumer pressure. Now that we know that certification on its own can’t solve the issue of child labor, we must continue to pressure chocolate companies to take substantive action to address this important issue.