An estimated 1.56 million children were involved in cocoa-related child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in 2018-19, of which 95% (approximately 1.48 million) children were found to be in cocoa-related hazardous child labour, a long-awaited and controversial report: Assessing Progress in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Cocoa Growing Areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, from the National Opinion Research Centre (NORC) at the University of Chicago has found.
The final version of the report, seen by ConfectioneryNews, funded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), is released today (19 October) and will add to the pressure on cocoa and chocolate companies, who are already under the scrutiny of EU and US lawmakers for failing to eradicate child labour from their supply chains – despite spending an estimated $215m in voluntary certification schemes in recent years in an attempt to tackle the problem.
* In relation to any intervention suggested from the industry, the report's authors make clear in 10.12 ANNEX XII: EXPERT GROUP FINDINGS that “The governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have raised methodological concerns at different points in the process, most recently since NORC shared the preliminary survey results in July 2019. Nevertheless, for transparency, USDOL agreed to put together an external and independent group of experts to review and assess specific methodological issues raised by the two governments.”
The Washington Post said: "The findings represent a remarkable failure by chocolate companies to fulfill their long-standing promise to eradicate the practice from their cocoa supply chains."
More than half of the world’s annual cocoa production comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and research funded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) estimated that over 2.1 million children were engaged in child labour in the cocoa sector of the two countries in 2013-2014. Nearly all of these children were engaged in hazardous work.
In response to evidence of children working under dangerous conditions in the West African cocoa sector, representatives from the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to address the issue in 2001. Since the signing of the Protocol, private and public sector entities have supported numerous interventions to combat child labour in the two countries’ cocoa sectors. In 2010, the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, USDOL, and the industry signed the Declaration of Joint Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol.
This Declaration and its accompanying Framework of Action committed the parties to further action, and set a goal of reducing the worst forms of child labour by 70% in the aggregate in the cocoa sectors of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana by 2020. In support of this goal, the parties recognized the need for reliable, actionable data on child labour reduction efforts in the sector, analysis of their outcomes, and additional population estimates to track overall progress in reducing child labour.
The report’s researchers said they recognized child labour and hazardous child labour in cocoa production was a complex problem requiring multiple complementary solutions.
As this report shows, there are today still too many children in cocoa farming doing work for which they are too young, or work that endangers them - and child labour has no place in the cocoa supply chain -- Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation
Their findings show an increase in both child labour and hazardous child labour in cocoa production in the cocoa growing areas of the two West African countries between 2008/09 and 2018/19, while cocoa production increased significantly over the same period.
Among the report’s other key findings, it reveals that in all agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the percentage of children aged 5-17 in child labour in cocoa has increased in the past decade from 31% in 2008/9 to 45% in 2018/9. In Côte d’Ivoire, the proportion increased from 23% to 38%, and in Ghana, from 44% to 55%. The proportion of children in cocoa-related child labour and hazardous child labour has remained consistently higher in Ghana than in Côte d’Ivoire.
The research also found child labour and hazardous child labour rates in cocoa production stabilizing within areas with historically high cocoa production while increasing in medium and low production areas.
They also recognised the proportion of children in cocoa-related child labour has increased at a slower rate than the proportion of households cultivating cocoa and the volume of cocoa produced.
It stated the increases in the proportion of children in cocoa-related child labour should be seen in a context of increasing cocoa production in the two countries.
Increased cocoa production
In the past decade, cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has increased by 62% (from 1,885,600 tonnes in 2008/9 to 3,050,000 tonnes in 2018/9) and the proportion of agricultural households cultivating cocoa has increased by 53% (from 58% in 2008/9 to 86% in 2018/9).
“The increased prevalence of child labour and hazardous child labour rates in the medium and low cocoa production areas underscores the importance of investing in child labour interventions within medium and low production areas. This is further supported by findings looking at the 2013/14 to 2018/19 period, which show child labour and hazardous child labour rates within cocoa growing households stabilizing even in the face of increased cocoa production,” the report stated.
Among agricultural households, the prevalence of cocoa-related child labour has increased by 45%, (from 31% in 2008/9 to 45% in 20018/9).
But the report also found that among cocoa-growing households "rather than all agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas", the prevalence of child labour and hazardous child labour has remained stable since 2013/4 in both countries.
By looking only at cocoa-growing households, the increase in the proportion of households growing cocoa is neutralised. On aggregate, 50% of children in cocoa-growing households were in cocoa-related child labour in 2018/9. The report shows child labour prevalence remained stable in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, with "no statistically significant" increase in either country since 2013/4.
In Côte d’Ivoire, 43% of children in cocoa-growing households were in child labour and 41% in hazardous child labour in 2018/9.
In Ghana, 59% of children in cocoa-growing households were in child labour and 55% in hazardous child labour in 2018/9. Data is not available to monitor this change since 2008/9.
A spokesperson for Mars Wrigley, one of the first of the big chocolate companies to respond to the report, told ConfectioneryNews: "Child labour has no place in the cocoa supply chain, which is why Mars Wrigley has committed $1 billion USD as part of its Cocoa for Generations strategy to help fix a broken supply chain. We call for robust public-private collaboration and we support appropriate due diligence legislation to address the root causes of child labour in West Africa cocoa growing communities.”
A leaked draft version of the report earlier this year showed findings that child labour in the two countries had actually increased overall from 30% to 41% over the past 10 years, placing more than 2 million children in danger.
This was even though many of the large chocolate companies had pledged in 2010 to reduce the worst forms of child exploitation in their West African supply chains by 70% by 2020.
In response to the leaked findings, the cocoa industry argued about the methodology used in this and previous reports from 2008/9 and 2013/14, and an independent Expert Group was commissioned by NORC to review the earlier version of the newest report.
In line with recommendations from the Expert Group, the NORC research team said it has made adaptations to the report (which caused its delay) in response to concerns from the industry over methodological challenges.
The report now finds:
- The estimated numbers of children in child labour and hazardous child labour were over-estimated in previous years. As a result, while the report provides estimates for the number of children in child labour in 2018/9, these cannot be compared with estimates for 2008/9 and 2013/4. The independent Expert Group, appointed to review the methodology in 2020, discovered that weightings had been incorrectly applied in previous surveys, inflating the estimated population of children in cocoa-growing areas and the derived child labour estimates.
- Estimates of child labour prevalence among all agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas can only be compared over the past decade, between 2008/9 and 2018/19. Sampling errors made during the 2013/4 survey mean the sample of all agricultural households cannot be considered representative (although the sample of cocoa-growing households is). This metric is highly sensitive to changes in the proportion of households growing cocoa, so the 10-year trend is likely to be heavily influenced by this.
- Estimates of child labour prevalence among cocoa-growing households can only be compared over the last five years, between 2013/4 and 2018/9. This is because of missing information in the 2008/9 sample, which prevented researchers from distinguishing cocoa-growing households from all agricultural households. This metric better neutralises the effects of demographic and production changes and effectively shows what is happening in an average cocoa-farming household, but the report is only able to document changes at that level over the more recent 5-year period.
The World Cocoa Foundation ( WCF) also commissioned its own report from NORC: Assessment of Effectiveness of Cocoa Industry Interventions in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Growing Areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which it also published today because “we wanted an independent assessment of the impact of interventions funded by the cocoa and chocolate industry to reduce child labour”, it said in the foreword.
It claimed the research by NORC confirms the effectiveness and impact of industry’s work. WCF’s own report concludes: “The results of the study demonstrated that the Industry Intervention Package has led to a lower likelihood and lower prevalence of child labour and hazardous child labour. Specifically, communities that received significant exposure to the Industry Intervention Package had a lower prevalence rate of hazardous child labour compared to similar communities that did not receive such interventions. In addition, the results also demonstrated that the likelihood of having at least one child engaged in hazardous work within agricultural households in communities that received the Industry Intervention Package in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana was lower compared to the households that did not receive the package.”
The WCF report went on to say: “These findings reinforce earlier research by the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which showed that child labour monitoring and remediation systems supported by companies have the potential to reduce child labour by 50% among identified child labourers."
In a statement, Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation, said: “As this report shows, there are today still too many children in cocoa farming doing work for which they are too young, or work that endangers them - and child labour has no place in the cocoa supply chain.
“Child labour remains a persistent challenge in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, despite major efforts by the governments, cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa-growing communities, and development partners. NORC confirms that targets to reduce child labour were set without fully understanding the complexity and scale of a challenge heavily associated with poverty in rural Africa and did not anticipate the significant increase in cocoa production over the past decade.”
Scobey argued that government and company programmes to reduce child labour in the two largest cocoa-growing countries are making a difference.
“NORC confirms that the more than 60% increase in total cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana over the past 10 years did not bring a similar surge in child labour. Government and company programmes led to a reduction in child labour. A separate study by NORC commissioned by WCF demonstrates that hazardous child labour has been reduced by one-third in communities where company programs are in place – a finding that is consistent with results from work by the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which shows that child labour can be reduced by one-half among those child labourers identified by company due diligence measures.”
Watered down figures?
The delay in publishing the NORC report (supposed to come out in June 2020) has led to allegations by NGOs from the US, Europe, UK and Australia (Mighty Earth, Be Slavery Free, Green America, Freedom United, and Fair World Project) claiming the research has been watered down due to industry pressure and is already obsolete as it is based on pre-COVID data.
“No amount of tweaking or reworking the methodology can obscure that significant findings of children in hazardous, exploitative, or slavery-like conditions in cocoa demonstrates the 20-year failure of industry and government to effectively act on the problem,” said Todd Larsen, Executive Co-Director of Green America.
In a joint statement by the NGOs, it said NORC’s data collection predates the COVID-19 epidemic, which is resulting in an estimated 15-20% increase in child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana ‘based on research from multiple sources’.
Cocoa producing countries’ overall economic situation has deteriorated significantly as the global economy ground to halt during the pandemic, the NGOs claimed.
The fact the industry was given advanced notice of the findings in the report allowed the stakeholders time to counteract with its own report through the influential WCF, which has over 100 members.
Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth said: “It seems that the cocoa industry is more interested in public relations than real solutions for kids, farmers, or forests.”
Chocolate is a $100bn annual global industry, but critics argue that most cocoa farmers still live on less than $1 per day.
Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, Founder, Cacao For Change and a long-standing adversary of the big chocolate companies, said: "The root cause of sustainable misery, child labour and slavery in the West African cocoa industry, and everywhere in the supply chain of multinationals, is the existence of a neo-colonial business model.
"Cocoa produced in West Africa is the essential ingredient that has helped the confectionery, food and beverage industries generate more than 1.5 trillion dollars in consumption value -and hundreds of billions in taxes for developed nations.
"The only way to end misery, child labour and slavery in the supply chain of the chocolate industry is to multiply the FGP (farm gate price) paid to cocoa farmers by four, which can be done easily by increasing the price of a candy bar by 10 cents per bar."
The NORC report is conducted as part of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a non-binding agreement between some of the largest chocolate companies and the US government, in which industry committed to ending child labour in cocoa a decade ago. This protocol is set to expire in the second half of 2021.
Writing in response to the NORC report, Nick Weatherill, Executive Director at the International Cocoa Initiative, said the number (1.56m) of children highlighted by NORC researchers currently involved in child labour in the cocoa sectors of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana underlines the scale of the challenge facing the cocoa sector and highlights the necessity to redouble its efforts.
“While the high prevalence of child labour in cocoa is of grave concern, there are reasons to be hopeful, as the research also illustrates several areas where progress has been made. It also suggests that where action is being taken, positive impacts are being seen, a finding backed up by other studies,” he said.
He also writes that in addition to findings on overall child labour prevalence, the NORC report contains other valuable data points from cocoa growing communities.
“For example, it highlights that children’s access to education has improved significantly over the last 10 years and suggests (through figures on the number of hours worked and the number of hazardous tasks performed) that for some children the severity of child labour is decreasing.”
The ICI, which has stepped up its own efforts to fight for children’s rights across the cocoa supply chain by releasing a new 2021-2026 strategy, said: “In spite of the real and persistent challenges revealed by the NORC report, we know that progress has been made and that we have a solid foundation on which to build. New human rights due diligence laws being developed and applied in many parts of the world (requiring companies to assess and address negative human rights impacts in their supply chains) will be a game-changer if they base themselves on evidence, past experience and emerging lessons on how to drive impact. But we should also be careful not to dispense with models, such as ours, that build on the power of voluntary, value-driven collaboration between individuals and entities who embrace change, not because they have to, but because they want to.”
Weatherill said: “Ultimately, as the NORC report states clearly, we have a long way to go. We will only get there in partnership, uniting the forces of the private sector, governments and civil-society under a principle of shared responsibility and towards a shared vision of a cocoa supply chain where children’s rights are fully protected and where all children thrive.”
A holistic system-based approach
The 2020 NORC report concluded by stating the findings suggest the importance of continued investments focused on child labour in cocoa production using a holistic system-based approach.
“Such an approach would consider various push factors such as limited access to education and poverty in relation to pull factors such as an increase in the global price of cocoa and increasing cocoa yields (for example provision of low cost and easily available agricultural inputs) and how those factors relate to production stratum, educational opportunities, and hazardous child labour.
“Although the Harkin-Engel Protocol is coming to an end, the success of the protocol in bringing together government, international, and industry stakeholders to address the issue of child labour and hazardous child labour in the cocoa sector can serve as a model for continued engagement by all stakeholders.”
* This Article was updated 13.21//20/10/2020 to make clear in paragraph three that it was the governments of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire that raised concerns about the methodology used by NORC in the draft report and not the chocolate industry per se.
Article updated with new headline: NORC final report released - finds over 1m cases of child labour in West Africa's coca sector