GES Newsletter
October 24, 2014

Last week was an intense time for GES’ engagement with the cocoa industry on business conduct in general and the issue of child labour in its supply chain in particular. Besides participating in the World Cocoa Foundation conference and moderating a session on social interventions in cocoa communities, GES also hosted a roundtable on solutions to child labour with participants from the cocoa industry and investors. Engagement meetings were also held with a number of companies.

With particular exposure to West Africa, where 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans are produced, the cocoa industry has been criticised for its association to child labour in the supply chain for many years. The beans are grown by millions of small scale farmers and then passed through a complex supply chain. Hundreds of thousands of children are believed to work on such farms, some of them with hazardous tasks such as carrying heavy loads and being exposed to pesticides. This work is also preventing children from attending school.

At GES’ roundtable on solutions to child labour, the complexity of the issue was discussed. Firstly, child labour is not an isolated issue, but exists in poor farmer communities where children’s labour force is needed for the families to manage their livelihoods. The lack of economic opportunities in the communities has also resulted in a wave of migration to the cities by the young people. A challenge for the cocoa industry is thus not only to combat child labour, but also to make cocoa farming attractive for the next generation to stay in the communities and for the industry to avoid labour shortages. Today the average age of cocoa farmers in West Africa is well above 50 years.

During the week it accordingly became evident that efforts from the industry need to be focused on having a real impact on the livelihoods for farmers. In focus at the conference was a new industry-wide framework for programmes aiming to increase productivity and improve social standards in the communities, named Cocoa Action. With twelve company participants so far, it is an industry commitment to reach 300 000 farmers in Ivory Coast and Ghana by 2020. While collaboration is needed to tackle the common challenges in the industry, investors and other stakeholders need to be aware of Cocoa Action not becoming the answer to everything. More farmers need to be reached, and issues additional to those covered by Cocoa Action need to be tackled. This will require further community programmes and a scale-up of certification, monitoring and remediation systems to ensure alignment with international human rights norms. In addition, increased collaboration between the industry and host governments on such efforts is crucial.

In GES’ continued engagement with some of the largest cocoa grinders and chocolate manufacturers, it will be important to emphasise the package of interventions described above and to follow up on the progress of their implementation. Only farmer programmes, or only certification, are not enough to eventually eliminate child labour in the cocoa supply chain. Several combined efforts seem to be the most effective way forward.

For further information, please contact:
Stina Nilsson, Senior Engagement Manager