‘All forms of child labour remain unacceptable’, says new WCF President

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

New WCF President Martin Short delivered his opening address to delegates. Pic: WCF
New WCF President Martin Short delivered his opening address to delegates. Pic: WCF

Related tags World cocoa foundation

Child labour remains a persistent challenge in the cocoa sector, and is the main focus of this year’s WCF Partnership Meeting, which opened online today with a message from new President Martin Short.

World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) president Martin Short opened the organisation’s Partnership Meeting with a call for action to the industry to work together to eliminate child labour from the supply chain and undertake a shared equity stake in the resolution of farmer income.

Short delivered the opening address, his first as WCF president, to more than 300 participants as they gathered online for two days of discussion and debate under the theme ‘Overcoming Challenges Together’.

To highlight the point of how he perceives little has changed over the years, he referenced two photos in front of him, one from 1959 and one from 2021, of working cocoa farmers; in both photos the men are barefoot, the only difference, said Short, was that one was in colour and the other in black and white.

Overcoming some initial technical difficulties with the live feed from his office in Washington, a suited Short told delegates he would like to make three points:

"Firstly, that poverty is the core of this problem – it is at the heart of child labour and deforestation ... secondary, everything we discuss over these two days needs to focus on this problem and finally, all participants in the supply chain need to work, share and compromise - including sharing traceability, protocols and data​."

Short said that in the international year of the elimination of child labour, all forms of child labour remain unacceptable, but he said it is crucial that the industry needs to find solutions as to how this can be overcome.

This year’s WCF Partnership Meeting is devoting time and space to ensure participants can have a full debate on child labour, with the opening plenary including three sessions on the topic that continues to plague the cocoa sector.

We need to find success not by reiterating the problem, or regurgitating historical data or the call for evermore research. Data collection is not the only benchmark by which progress and success can be measured​," he said. "We are all responsible and no one can plead ignorance or abdicate responsibility​."

He said progress has been made, but as it gone far enough? The very theme of this conference is overcoming challenges together, he reminded delegates.

"Partnerships mean to achieve a bigger goal, to reach the objectives of the alliance, private institutions, governments and individuals will have to leave their egos and their silos at the door. ... from the 20% of what we all hold dear may well have to be sacrificed to attain the objective that we seek and focus on the 80%,"​ he said.

Short said that he is looking to the cocoa industry for systemic reform. “I admit to being disheartened by the continued over use of the word ‘sustainability’ without any regard for what mechanisms are required to be actioned to achieve this heavy goal.”

Short ended his speech by calling on delegates during the two days of discussion and debate, to ask themselves after every session one thing: ‘can the solutions or thoughts or actions that we have heard today in this session meaningfully improve the income of the farmer?' “If you cannot answer ‘yes,’ to that issue​," he said, "then we have a problem​.”

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Little has changed over years. Has it?

Posted by Falguni Guharay,

You used the two photographs of the cocoa growers to illustrate that little has changed over the years. I can use graphs to show that yes things have changed over the years. The stock price of Hershey company was 1.43 USD in 1981, in 2021 the stock price is 179.23 USD. The market capital of the same company in 2008 was 8 billion USD, today it is 36 billion USD. The cocoa farmer still barefoot goes hand in hand with the vertiginous capital accumulation in the industry. The two images need to be seen side by side to really understand the challenge.


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Posted by Gerry Morrison Rare,

I now reuse in West Africa, Liberia and have goals to make Liberia a major player in the world of cocoa, once again. We will start by focusing on no child labor as well as higher inclines to families of cocoa farmers, whom with such great people, we have Zero cocoa. There is far too much profits in certain sectors of the bean to bar consumer for different stages of A-Z and this needs to be changed. I have several ideas that I want to incorporate into a plan so that we see farmers as well as all enjoy a win-win. Greed is the enemy here, so this is another top priority to address. There is plenty to go around so that all live above the poverty level. As an industry, we are better than this current state

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