Child Labor Update

Last week, the Payson Center of Tulane University published its second annual report evaluating public and private initiatives to combat the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire. These reports are produced under a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The report concludes that

  • Children in the rural areas continue working in cocoa production and in other agricultural and economic activities, some as young as 5 years of age.
  • A large percentage of the children working in cocoa report involvement in hazardous work and injuries while performing agricultural tasks, including the use of tools and equipment, carrying heavy loads, and exposure to environmental hazards. Some children are also involved in spraying pesticides and in the application of other chemicals. Some of these activities have been classified worst forms of child labor by the Governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
  • There is little evidence of the unconditional worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector – child trafficking, forced labor, etc. – as a percentage of the population. However, there is evidence of child trafficking to Côte d’Ivoire from neighboring countries.
  • Of note in the Tulane’s population-based survey of Nov/Dec 2007 was that the vast majority of children in the cocoa-growing areas – 95% in Ghana and 98% in Côte d’Ivoire (weighted data) – do not report exposure to any intervention projects in support of children in the rural areas. While these children may still benefit from interventions indirectly and without their knowledge, these percentages are low enough to merit further field validation (Second Annual Report, page 10).

In short, little has changed since 2000, when these conditions were first reported. I have commented on the efforts by the chocolate industry before (check my posts for May 2008) and complained about their dragging of feet, their unwillingness to accept any responsibility for the current conditions and their failure to put real money into efforts to combat the problem.

This report, while generally complimentary to the industry, nevertheless supports some of my earlier criticisms.

Certification. The report again highlights the discrepancy between the notion of certification used in the Harkin-Engel protocol and the concept of certification employed by the chocolate industry. The protocol employed rather clear and straightforward language: “industry in partnership with other major stakeholders will develop and implement credible, mutually-acceptable, voluntary, industry-wide standards of public certification, consistent with applicable federal law, that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor.”

The chocolate industry concept of certification had changed over the past three years. According to the report (p. 20), the industry now defines certification as:

  • A statistically representative family, farm and community-based data collection on the incidence of WFCL and FAL in a country’s cocoa-growing area.
  • Publicly available annual reporting on the nature and impact of remediation efforts focused on the elimination of the WFCL and FAL (including rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation, as needed).
  • Independent verification of the data collection and reporting.

Notice that this standard does not certify that the beans were produced without the worst forms of child labor. Notice also that this standard does not include any requirements or targets or deadlines. Notice finally that this standard does not require the industry to spend a single cent on remediation efforts. According to this standard, child labor can continue forever while the industry simply reports on its existence and whatever efforts may or may not be undertaken to deal with it. No wonder that the vast majority of children do not report any exposure to any remediation project. It puts the glowing reports of the industry and its foundations to shame.

The sad fact is, there were alternative methods. I reported on the WACAP efforts undertaken by the International Labor Organization. According to the report (p. 27), the chocolate industry discontinued support for this initiative because “WACAP, which focused primarily on communities with access to schooling and on compensating families for sending their children to school instead of working, was found not to be a practical, saleable platform for a certification system covering an entire country.” That conclusion is in direct contradiction to the conclusion of WACAP that the pilot program could be scaled to cover an entire country. Of course, it would have required some real financial commitments.

According to the industry submissions, the chocolate industry has contributed some $30 million to the remediation efforts between 2005 and 2008. Of that amount almost $20 million was spent by individual companies. Given the lack of transparency, there is really no way to check if these funds were truly spent on remediation. And so the conditions continue and the children are still waiting for decisive action.

My advice? Buy fairtrade chocolate. At least then you know that you are not participating in the scam.

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2 thoughts on “Child Labor Update

  1. Rodney North

    Michael,
    It’s great to see you writing on this, especially to see such a tight summary of the Payson Center’s 400+ page report.

    One thing I’d add – given that tomorrow is Halloween – is that Equal Exchange and Cocoa Camino (Canada) and a number of non-profit groups (Global Exchange especially) have again organized a North American-wide “Reverse Trick-or-Treating” campaign to raise awareness of the forced child labor problem and how Fair Trade is one, immediate step the public and interested groups and businesses can take.
    see: http://www.EqualExchange.coop/reverse and http://www.ReverseTrickorTreating.org

  2. Michael Post author

    Thanks for the reminder. I had planned on a local report for the reverse trick or treat campaign but unfortunatly that did not work out because I couldn’t be in town.