New Evidence of Trafficking, Child, Forced Labor in Cocoa

07/10/2011 16:08

Tasked with providing Congress with an annual, impartial assessment of chocolate industry efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor from the cocoa industry, the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University released its fourth annual report. The report is currently the best place to learn about ongoing abuses on cocoa farms and to find an an impartial assessment of the efforts companies have made to improve conditions. The new report provides upsetting evidence that little progress has been made and backs up the arguments frequently made by advocates.

The new report identifies the ongoing exploitation of labor rights in the cocoa sector including the worst forms of child labor, forced labor and trafficking. New research related to the trafficking of young workers from Burkina Faso and Mali found that most of them moved to Cote d'Ivoire without their natural parents or guardians. Virtually all respondents in the survey of migrant workers experienced the worst forms of child labor including: verbal, physical and sexual harassment; restrictions of their freedom of movement; performing hazardous work, including land clearing and burning; carrying heavy loads; spraying pesticides; and using machetes, among other dangerous activities. At the same time, border police and guards in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana receive almost no training in dealing with child trafficking and are unaware of policies and intervention strategies related to dealing with child trafficking. Unsurprisingly, only a miniscule percentage of respondents who had experienced trafficking and the worst forms of child labor benefited from any sort of intervention or assistance.

The Tulane University report also analyzes the progress made by the cocoa industry on each aspect of the Harkin-Engel Protocol and found that overall there was an uneven and incomplete implementation of the agreement. The Protocol was a voluntary agreement signed by major chocolate companies in 2001 that committed them to certify that the worst forms of child labor were not used in the production of their chocolate.  The report recommends that chocolate companies increase their volume of cocoa that is certified by independent programs outside of the "certification" program developed under the Harkin-Engel Protocol, like Fair Trade.

The report also investigates the work of industry-funded programs that are implemented on the ground in West Africa for the purpose of eliminating child labor and improving the lives of cocoa farmers. The main entity developed through the Harkin-Engel Protocol to fund programs on the ground like this is the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). In investigating the ICI, the research team found:

  • While Tulane’s research and that of the West African governments confirmed the presence of forced adult labor in the cocoa sector, no remediation interventions targeting this abuse is in place in either Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana;
  • ICI programs in Cote d’Ivoire cover a mere 2.29% of cocoa growing communities and 3% of cocoa growing communities in Ghana. As a result, the industry would need to spend 42.5 times the amount to date in Cote d’Ivoire and 28.8 times the current amount in Ghana in order to achieve the goals it has established for the end of this year;
  • While the ratio has shifted recently, ICI’s aggregate operating-to-program expenditure ratio between 2002 and 2009 was 52:48. The Better Business Bureau recommends that charitable organizations spend at least 65% of total expenses on program activities;
  • From 2001 through 2009, surveyed organizations in Ghana received only $4.3 million USD from industry partners (less than government and other stakeholders combined) and surveyed organizations in Cote d’Ivoire received only $1.2 million USD in the same time period while government and other stakeholders provided over four times as much funding combined.  Meanwhile, global chocolate sales in 2008 totaled US $62.1 billion.

The findings of the report support the demands that advocates have been making of chocolate companies for years. Earlier this month, four organizations released a report focusing on Hershey's corporate social responsibility policies and recommended that the company increase its sourcing of Fair Trade Certified cocoa. The Tulane report notes that almost all major chocolate companies are shifting toward certified cocoa and encourages this development, but Hershey is lagging behind competitors in this area.

The report should be a wake-up call to companies like Hershey that more responsible purchasing policies are urgently needed. You can check out more highlights from the report online here. Or, you can tell big chocolate CEOs that we want Fair Trade cocoa now.

Photo credit: International Labor Rights Forum

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