Guest post

A fair approach to child labor issues in sugar and cocoa farming

By Anita Sheth

- Last updated on GMT

 Fairtrade International’s mission is to enable farmers and workers to earn a decent living. Pic: Fairtrade America
Fairtrade International’s mission is to enable farmers and workers to earn a decent living. Pic: Fairtrade America

Related tags: Fair trade usa, Cocoa, Belize

Fairtrade International pioneers unique and effective program to address child labor in farming communities. Anita Sheth, senior advisor social compliance and development, Fairtrade International, explains an ongoing program in Belize to empower local youth and educate farmers on solutions to end the practice.

Now more than ever, major food companies, legislators and nonprofit certifiers are coming together to enact change against child labor issues plaguing the global farming industry, particularly in the cocoa sector.

However, the industry is still far from addressing the human rights challenges farmers and farm workers face. Fairtrade International, the original and global leader in fair trade certification, is pioneering innovative programs to address the underlying factors that perpetuate child labor.

For the confectionery industry to make an impact on this complex issue, it is critical to focus on the lifecycle of the problem.

During the last five years, Fairtrade has targeted the socio-economic root causes that push farmers into relying on the two million children engaged in labor.

For the confectionery industry to make an impact on this complex issue, it is critical to focus on the lifecycle of the problem. Child labor rates can be more prevalent when families are not able to earn a living wage from their crops and youth in the region lack decent employment opportunities. Fairtrade International’s mission is to enable farmers and workers to earn a decent living, which is achieved by creating strong standards and an auditing system that checks for and prohibits child labor.

Instances of child labor 

Since 2015, Fairtrade has partnered with local sugar cane farmer associations, young people and their communities in Belize to identify and respond to child labor occurring on farms, as well as to children’s insecurities in and around farming communities. This unique pilot program, called the Youth Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation System on Child Labor (YICBMR), gets to the root of the problem by empowering local youth to identify instances of child labor and work with community leaders on solutions to prevent further occurrences. 

At the heart of the Belize program’s success is the active participation of children and young people

A major learning is that child protection measures imposed from organizations outside of the local community have limited positive impact. Policies and procedures are much more effective when developed and implemented holistically by farmers, workers, communities and families themselves, because they are best suited to understand and address the sources of exploitation.

At the heart of the Belize program’s success is the active participation of children and young people, as well as that of adults in the communities who commit to identifying any risks to children’s well-being and make recommendations on how to respond to these safety issues.

Protecting children

Fairtrade International’s rights-based approach combines protecting children against harm whilst enabling their participation and development. A recent study of the program’s effectiveness showed constituents on all sides, including community members, cooperative staff, NGO and government reps, rate the program very positively as a comprehensive approach to addressing child labor, not just on the farms themselves, but also in the whole community. Fairtrade International has implemented similar programs in 12 countries, including two in West Africa cocoa cooperatives. 

Picture belize Fairtrade
Fairtrade America's Belize program case study in action

This program has opened the lines of communication for farmers and communities to talk openly about child labor and should serve as a best practice for fighting the issue globally. While there is still a lot of work to be done in protecting against child labor - particularly with the subsequent follow-up and remediation - Fairtrade has identified the positive effects of empowering youth leaders to be a part of the solution.

Fairtrade International calls upon confectionary companies sourcing commodities such as cocoa and sugar to support producers and farmers who are leading the way with youth-inclusive, rights-based, community-driven, self-governing systems to identify and respond to child labor.

  • Fairtrade International is represented in the United States by Fairtrade America. Find out more at www.fairtradeamerica.org​.

Anita Sheth Photo Fairtrade crop

Anita Sheth is the Senior Advisor, Social Compliance, and Development at Fairtrade International. She serves as the organization’s expert on child and forced labor issues, including protection of children and vulnerable adults. She specializes in labor and human security issues in the agricultural and extractive sectors across Asia pacific, West and East Africa, and South and Central America. Sheth also has served as an expert advisor to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Cocoa and Child Labor Oversight Body and has conducted several U.S. Customs, Immigration, and Law Enforcement workshops.

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