- Child labor in cocoa production areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana increased 14% between the 2009 and the 2019 harvest seasons, according to research from the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. This increase in child labor corresponded with a 62% increase in cocoa production during the same time period.
- The study also found the majority of this increase occurred in low and medium production areas. Areas defined as having high cocoa production did not have this increase. NORC conducted 2,824 roster surveys, 2,809 household head surveys, 5,552 child surveys, 158 community surveys, 372 cocoa shed surveys and 260 school surveys across Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
- For years, reports have found food companies are not doing enough to eradicate child labor from its supply chain, especially in the cocoa industry. A 2018 report found chocolate companies’ programs to improve sustainability in the sector have resulted in few changes during the past 10 years, maintaining high levels of child labor.
This report is far from the first to find cocoa companies have failed to deliver on their pledges to eradicate child labor from their sources in West Africa, where the majority of the world’s cocoa is produced. The Washington Post reported the world’s largest chocolatiers have missed multiple deadlines in 2005, 2008 and 2010 to eliminate child labor from their supply chains.
Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, wrote in an opinon piece for Food Dive this year that efforts to reduce child labor in the cocoa supply chain have had mixed results and that a new approach is "urgently" needed. He cited 2019 statistics showing 2 million children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are exposed to what the International Labor Organization calls the "worst forms of child labor," despite pledges from 2010 to cut this number by 70% by 2020.
In this year’s study from the Labor Department, the number hovered at nearly 1.6 million children — or 38% of those living in agricultural households in Côte d’Ivoire and 55% of children in the same situation in Ghana.
A large part of the difficulty of eliminating this form of labor is the complexity of integrating transparency into supply chains. A Washington Post investigation found chocolate companies struggle to identify the farms where all their cocoa comes from, making it even more difficult to determine whether child labor was used in producing it.
Cocoa companies are trying to reduce this number. In September, Olam International, the world’s third-largest cocoa processor, achieved 100% traceability for the cocoa it directly sources. However, its directly sourced cocoa only represents about 60% of the company’s purchases, Bloomberg reported. Cocoa leader Barry Callebaut said last year that 26% of the farmer groups it uses have systems in place to prevent, monitor and remediate child labor.
Even with these continued efforts, unless a company stays vigilant, it may not know that an overseas supplier uses forced or child labor. To help motivate companies to undertake this amount of oversight, the Rainforest Alliance is planning to tighten up its certification for cocoa producers next year, which will include requiring each individual certified cocoa farmer to have specific GPS coordinates placed in its West African system.
Cocoa is not the only industry facing these struggles. The palm oil industry is rife with problems associated with labor practices like child labor. It has also been hard for this industry to root out child labor. This month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began blocking palm oil imports from producers that are particularly problematic.
The cocoa industry, however, can still work to self-correct the problem. One advantage that companies have now is technology. By leveraging innovations such as blockchain to track an ingredient from field to a finished product, chocolate companies have the opportunity to integrate visibility into portions of its supply chains that were previously hiding from view due to geographic distance and lack of real-time connectivity.
Having the ability to demonstrate to consumers that supply chains are ethically sound and free of child labor will lbecome increasingly important as companies try to deliver enough product to meet soaring demand. The global chocolate market is forecast to reach $139 billion by 2024 with growth averaging 4.5% annually, according to Mordor Intelligence. Providing traceable supply chains to consumers can help chocolatiers reap tangible results, as nearly all consumers have said they would pay more for transparent products.