Despite signs of progress, much more needs to be done to protect children in West African cocoa
There are encouraging signs of progress in tackling child labour in cocoa growing but the problem remains vast, and more needs to be done to protect vulnerable children in cocoa-growing communities, according to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI).
A report just released by the University of Tulane, commissioned by the US Department of Labour, estimates that there are more than 2.1 million child labourers in cocoa-growing across Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. This represents a 21% increase in the absolute number of child labourers in cocoa, and a 15.5% increase in the prevalence of cocoa-related child labour in cocoa-growing areas, between the selected baseline year of 2008/9 and 2013/4. The report also shows an increasing number of children carrying heavy loads and using sharp tools, with a high rate of work hazards and injuries reported in both countries.
“This is a rallying call for everyone to do more, to do it better, and to do it together,” says Nick Weatherill, ICI’s Executive Director. “We know that our community child protection model has a significant impact, but it needs to be scaled up to reach many more farming communities, and it also needs to be matched with supportive government policies and actions in both countries.”
Importantly, however, the report also shows that the 21% increase in the number of child labourers in cocoa is less than the 43% increase in the number of children living in growing numbers of cocoa-farming households (which have increased by 80% from 2008/9) and less than the 40% increase in cocoa production recorded over the same period of time. Relative to this increase in the cocoa-growing population, there has in fact been a 14% decrease in the prevalence of child labour in cocoa-growing households across both countries and a 16% decrease in worst forms of child labour.
The report also shows that the frequency and severity of child labour is declining, with access to education in Ghanaian and Ivorian cocoa growing areas significantly improved, allowing 651,747 more children to attend school in 2013/14, compared with 2008/9.
“These important findings confirm that, in some respects, things are moving forward on the right trajectory. But relative to the size of the challenge, the pace and scale of change is insufficient.” says Weatherill. “Hundreds of thousands of children are still at risk and we need to shift up a gear.”
According to ICI, this underscores the importance and timeliness of its new strategy that aims to improve child protection for another 1 million children by 2020, as well as the cocoa industry’s CocoaAction initiative to expand community development and promote sustainable cocoa, and recent commitments from the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast to further expand access to education and social protection. “It is now beholden on all of us to deliver against these bold and necessary commitments” urges Weatherill.
Having worked with the cocoa industry, civil society and the governments in both countries for the last eight years, ICI has witnessed a marked increase in collective commitment and funding for the issue of child labour in cocoa, and has demonstrated clear impact through its actions. In communities with effective child protection systems in place, ICI has seen a 19% increase in the number of children enrolled in school, and a 20% to 40% reduction in child labour. But these communities still represent a small fraction of the thousands of communities that depend on cocoa for their livelihood.
“We are encouraged by what has been done so far, and believe that the cocoa sector is leading the way in addressing a very complex issue that is generic to many global agricultural supply-chains. But this report reminds us that we still have an enormous task ahead of us,” says Weatherill.
ICI’s experience has shown that solutions lie in increasing cocoa communities’ awareness of the risks to their children, boosting cocoa farmers’ income, improving their children’s access to education, empowering women and ensuring that cocoa-communities and the cocoa supply chain are better equipped to identify and assist vulnerable children. “Getting these solutions to all the children that need them will still take unprecedented effort from all actors, and while that will take time and patience, there is no room for complacency.”