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Africa: Child labour remains a major concern in the chocolate industry 20 years after promises were made

‘Cocoa Farming, Cheap Chocolate and Child Labor’ 26 November 2020

Practically everyone loves chocolate. And yet, child labor remains a problem in cocoa farming. For years, the chocolate industry has promised to end the practice, but a new study shows it has actually increased. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," according to a famous proverb. And there is indeed no lack of good intentions to eradicate child labor in cocoa farming. But despite decades of promises, success is still a long way off, as a new study by the NORC research institute at the University of Chicago shows. Around 1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports. Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans. On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands. Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.

For some 20 years now, major chocolate manufactures like Mars and Nestle have promised to end the worst forms of child labor. They even set themselves clear goals and deadlines by signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001. When the targets were missed, they were repeatedly postponed and adjusted. "In 2005, the deadline was extended to 2008, and then in 2008 to 2010," said Johannes Schorling from Inkota, a development policy network based in Berlin. In 2010, a revised target was announced to reduce child labor by 70% come 2020. "That hasn't happened either, on the contrary child labor has actually increased over the last 10 years," Schorling told DW. According to the NORC study, the use of child labor is now at 45%, an increase of 14 points. Given the goal of a 70% reduction, such an increase might well be termed a complete failure.

…Last year, Ghana and Ivory Coast forged what was called "the Opec for cocoa." Since this October, buyers of their cocoa beans have to pay a premium of about $400 per ton. The industry, which had previously opposed higher prices, now supports this living income differential. "This will generate an estimated $1.2 billion in additional revenue for cocoa farmers," said Scobey. "These two governments have done more for fairer prices than the industry has done in years," said Schorling. But how exactly the markup will affect farmers' incomes has yet to be investigated. Before its introduction, cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast earned only $0.78 a day on average, according to a study by Fairtrade, an NGO, compared with a living wage of $2.51.