Over the past decade, child labor on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has increased, despite promises from the chocolate industry to take measures against it. It is estimated that some 2.1 million children were employed in the cocoa sector last season, including children under the age of 12, according to a University of Chicago survey of more than 2,000 families.
The number of child laborers is now higher than in 2010 when multinationals such as Mars, Hershey, Nestlé, and Cargill promised to reduce severe forms of child labor in their West African supply chain by 70 percent by this year.
The number of children working in the cocoa sector rose from 44 percent in 2013-2014 to 46 percent in 2018-2019. The number of children performing hazardous work, such as using sharp tools, remained stable at 42 percent.
These figures are more than ten percent higher than in the first survey in 2008-2009 and point to the difficulty of eliminating child labor in the thousands of poor communities that depend on the cocoa sector for their survival. But the report also puts pressure on cocoa traders and chocolate manufacturers who have been under attack for years for their inability to tackle child labor in their supply chains.
Child labor in the cocoa sector is a complex problem that requires multiple complementary solutions, states the report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, and released later this month.
Step up interventions
Richard Scobey, Director of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), an organization representing companies such as Nestlé and Hershey, confirms that the sector has not yet managed to achieve the target set in 2010. He points to initiatives such as the International Cocoa Initiative, which has the support of the chocolate industry and has already halved the reduction of child labor in places where the project was introduced. “The challenge now is to step up these interventions,” says Scobey.
According to the report, the increase in child labor may be due to the rise in cocoa prices and an increase in production, which is prompting farmers to grow cocoa.
About two-thirds of all cocoa is harvested worldwide in Ivory Coast and Ghana. The countries produced about three million tons of cocoa last season. A sharp increase compared to 2013-2014 when production amounted to 2.65 million tons.