ICI estimates that between one and two of every 10 kids in West African cocoa households are engaged in some form of child labor throughout the year. Other estimates from Unicef and Tulane University have varied from 300,000 to one million children between 2007 and 2013.
Current prevention via certification
Its little surprise unlawful child labor remains a big problem – many cocoa farmers live below the threshold of absolute poverty on less than $2 a day, so turn to younger family members to help on farms.
To date, child labor in cocoa is mainly tackled by paying premiums through certification. The idea is if farmers’ incomes are improved they won’t engage in the worst forms of child labor, yet farmers in the sector remain poor.
There are also internal and external audits through certification, but these are only once a year on select farms and, although rising, just 16% of global chocolate uses certified cocoa.
Nestlé started a child labor monitoring and remediation project with ICI in 2012 that properly got underway last year. It involves an appointed person within communities to search for instances of unlawful child labor and uses farming cooperatives to take remedial action.
“We see the system is picking up child labor when previously it was not,” Nick Weatherill, executive director at ICI told ConfectioneryNews.
He said auditors visiting select farms with certification bodies once a year did little to pick up instances of unlawful child labor, but community liaison people selected by their peers could by conducting household interviews with cocoa farmers three times a year.
‘You don’t just write down you have found a case and that’s it’
Weatherill continued: “The other key difference between what came before is that this links to remediation. You don’t just write down you have found a case and that’s it.”
Through the program, 332 community liaison people in Côte D’Ivoire collect data on children working on cocoa farms and assess whether it is in hazardous work or interferes with schooling. The liaison people also educate the community – not only farmers supplying Nestlé - on the dangers faced by children on cocoa farms.
Nestlé child labor prevention system in numbers
- 25% of Nestlé cocoa supply covered
- 541 communities involved
- 332 community liaison people
- 18 child labor agents
- 22 cooperatives
- 40 schools built or refurbished
“Because these are people within the community there is a more open dialogue with the farmers,” said Weatherill.
The liaison people visit farms and will interview all members of a farmer’s family three times a year. “It’s the household interviews that are the most insightful,” said Weatherill, adding that it was usually the children who conceded they were engaged in the worst forms of child labor.
Eighteen child labor agents from farming cooperatives organize intervention efforts when required. This may be by providing uniforms to ensure school attendance, but can also be making sure schools are nearby and enabling mothers to generate income to support schooling costs.
“Quite often we find they are not in school because they don’t have birth certificates,” said Weatherill.
ICI: This could go beyond Nestlé
The liaison people collect data on smart phones that are fed into a real-time database managed by ICI. This database is available to all of ICI’s members, which includes Hershey, Mars and Mondelēz.
“There’s an important potential for this to go beyond Nestlé,“ said Weatherill.
But he added: “To say that others are neglecting the issue is not very fair.” He said other players had rightly invested in certification. “But it’s a blunt instrument in terms of getting to the root causes of poverty.”
But he added certification organizations could play a role in a child labor monitoring system if they evolved and ICI is currently working with UTZ on the Nestle system.
Going deeper and wider
Nestlé implemented its child labor prevention system after allowing the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to probe its supply chain. The FLA suggested a child labor prevention system as one of 11 recommendations after finding children working on farms supplying Nestlé.
“They are the first to set up a system of this sort. It’s the first system that goes deeper and wider,” said Weatherill.
He said it was the first system physically based in the community that linked the entire supply chain. ICI trains Nestlé, co-ops and community liaison people and farmers in the same program.
“We break through some of the misunderstandings we had previously…we are all on the same page,” said Weatherill.
What investment is required?
But how much will it cost for others in the industry to implement such a program?
“There’s a lot of investment in training,” said Weatherill. But he said once the system was in place and manufacturers encouraged farmers to become part of a cooperative, implementation costs would come down. Once part of cooperatives, farmers will be better organized and yields should increase, he said.
But is this another marketing initiative focused on boosting productivity for industry gain that neglects the root cause of child labor: Poverty in the cocoa sector?
Why not do as a group of NGOs suggested in the latest Cocoa Barometer and set a measure for poverty and bring farmers out?
Weatherill said that since solutions on the core poverty problem were a long way off, remedial action was required. But he added: “If cocoa and cocoa related acuities can’t lift farmers out of poverty it’s not sustainable.”
The entire supply
Nestlé’s child labor prevention system forms part of the company’s sustainability initiative, the Nestlé Cocoa Plan. This covers about half Nestlé’s cocoa supply in Cote D’Ivoire and 25% overall.
This means a child labor prevention system is not present for the bulk of Nestlé’s cocoa supply. Why can the company not commit to scaling up to 100%.
Weatherill said ICI favored an incremental approach. “You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said, adding that Nestle will scale up from 22 to 70 cooperatives by 2016, which he described as an ambitious aim.