A Child Labor Update

In late September, the Payson Center at Tulane University released its third annual oversight report on efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor (WFCL) in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire. Overall, the report takes a positive point of view. But hidden in various parts of the report remain serious questions as to the efficacy of the chocolate industry’s engagement with the Harkin Engel Protocol process.

Let’s start with the good news. The percentage of children working on cocoa farms during the past year has declined from 54.5 to 46.2 percent in Ghana and from 41.1 to 24.1 percent in the Côte d’Ivoire. The authors of the report consider the decline in cocoa production and the general increase in income in both countries as well as the measures taken by the governments to be the reason for the progress. Hours worked on a cocoa farm remained essentially the same.

Children engaged in hazardous work (the key form of WFCL in the cocoa sector) however did not show such progress. Here are the respective numbers (p. 57-58 of the report:

Tasks Ghana Côte d’Ivoire
2007 2008/09 2007 2008/09
Carrying Heavy Loads 69.1% 68.7% 19.2% 79.8%
Operating Tools 89.4% 85.2% 87.4% 93.9%
Spraying insecticides/
4.7% 1.6% 0.6% 1.4%

It turns out that exposure to dangerous work continues with little change over the past year.

In terms of education, the figures have not changed much over the past year. Ivorian children working in cocoa report 58.7 percent school attendance while their Ghanaian counterparts reach 90.9 percent. However in both countries many children “self-report that they cannot read or write” (p. 64).

As was the case during the last year, only about 5 percent of children or caregivers report any contact with activities that are part of the child labor remediation efforts sponsored either by the industry or the government (p. 11). So much for the much publicized efforts of the industry.

The report repeats last year’s questions about the nature of certification, asking what exactly is being certified by the industry system in place. That approach avoids establishing clear targets and the means to measure achievements. The Tulane researchers point out that “the resources devoted to the remediation step in the overall certification process need to be increased considerably in order to adequately address the problem.”

Finally, the reports juxtaposes the absence of a clear certification process with the news that a number of chocolate makers (Cadbury, Mars, Kraft, etc.) have entered into certification agreements (fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ). Each of these schemes makes the cocoa beans traceable, that is, they include farm level certification, something the industry has claimed was impossible when it set up its own standards.

Overall, it seems that little has changed during the past year.

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