‘The model works’: Cocoa child labor numbers will drop if commitments honored, says ICI

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Out of the cocoa fields and into school: ICI director stands by industry efforts and says new US government-backed project will alleviate cocoa child labor. Photo: ICI
Out of the cocoa fields and into school: ICI director stands by industry efforts and says new US government-backed project will alleviate cocoa child labor. Photo: ICI

Related tags Child labor Childhood Côte d’ivoire

The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) says it will not alter its approach to tackling cocoa child labor after a sharp rise in the worst forms of child labor, and is optimistic a $4.5m US government grant and industry commitments will contribute to a future drop.

The organization, whose members include Ferrero, Mars, Nestlé and Mondelēz International, this month received $4.5m from the US Department of Labor to curb child labor in 50 cocoa-growing communities in the Côte D’Ivoire.

ICI: Tulane numbers will fall

ICI ‘s executive director Nick Weatherill told ConfectioneryNews the project, combined with industry commitments under CocoaAction​ and producer government initiatives will help reduce the 2.26m children working in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, identified by Tulane University​ during the 2013/14 harvest season.

“If all commitments are honored, the next Tulane survey will see an improved situation,” ​he said.

Tulane's latest study, published in July, found an 18% rise in children working in hazardous cocoa labor in the two main cocoa producing nations from 2008/09 to 2013/14.

“Was the Tulane report an indicator that everything we are doing is wrong? The answer categorically is no,” ​said Weatherill.

“Nothing has changed in the model. The Tulane numbers haven’t changed our approach. It’s just pushed us for a more scaled up effort. We know it works, but it’s been applied at too small a scale.”

Over 5,000 at-risk children

ICI’s latest US government-funded project is a four-year program, targeting 50 cocoa-growing communities in Côte D’Ivoire in which around 90,000 children live.

“We estimate this project will identify 5,450 children at risk of child labor in cocoa,”​ said Weatherill – which equates to around 5% of young people in the 50 communities.

Money will be spent first on surveys to identify vulnerable children, then on raising awareness of children’s rights. Interventions will then be tailored to each community to get at-risk children into school or in vocational training.

“Sometimes the issue is a lack of water supply. The children go to collect water, so they don’t go to school,”​ said Weatherill.

Other communities have many migrant children without birth certificates, making it difficult for them to enroll at local schools, the ICI director added.

ICI - getting kids back in school
ICI also works with chocolate industry players on child labor prevention systems. Photo: ICI
US government financing

Funding for the project is coming solely from the US government.

“At the moment it’s a standalone project. This is complementary to what the industry is already doing,”​ said Weatherill.

ICI’s core program, in collaboration with industry partners such as Nestlé and Mars, covers another 80 cocoa growing communities with plans to scale up to 100.

“The call for additional resources from all sides is always there… but it’s not a question that the US government is doing something because the industry is not,”​ said Weatherill.

“There’s a big scale problem and the efforts to tackle it need to be scaled up, but at a capacity to do the job well,”​ he continued.

ICI will base success on whether the 5,450 at-risk kids are no longer in child labor and instead in school or in vocational training.

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