skip to main content

Breaking the cycle of child labor in cocoa production.

On the occasion of World Day Against Child Labor, Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, reflects on efforts so far to tackle child labor in the cocoa sector.

June 12, 2018

Almost two decades ago, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that all children should be protected from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education. Yet today, there are still 152 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom are carrying out harmful and exploitative tasks on a daily basis. More than two million of these children work on cocoa farms in West Africa; a region where Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate sources most of our cocoa beans.

We share the international community’s commitment to ending child labor in all its forms by 2025, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ ambitions to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. That is why we have set the same timeline for achieving zero incidents of child labor in our supply chain as part of our own Cargill Cocoa Promise goals. But to achieve this, it is vital to understand and address the underlying causes of child labor.

Many children working on cocoa plantations do so within their families. Often, rural households rely on children’s farm work to save on both labor and education costs. But, as the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has pointed out, this only perpetuates a cycle of poverty. Educating rural families about the long-term benefits of schooling, whilst also raising awareness of the harm that hazardous work causes to children’s physical and mental wellbeing, is the first step. But to end child labor for good, efforts must go further.

In 2016, Cargill launched our Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS) in conjunction with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). What started off as a pilot project aimed at eight farming cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire has since gone from strength to strength. In 2017, CLMRS efforts reached 5,200 farmers and nearly 8,400 children with information about child labor prevention and monitoring services.

Our initial efforts identified 1,517 incidents of hazardous tasks being conducted by children, which equates to a similar rate found by ICI across all of its supply-chain CLMRS work. The data also provides important insights: the vast majority of cases involved carrying heavy loads, such as water and wood, often for household usage. This speaks to the critical role of community development activities to help ensure communities have access to clean and close water sources and tools such as wheelbarrows so that farm work is easier for adults to perform and children’s work isn’t needed.

Cargill and ICI have already begun implementing relevant remediation activities. In some cases, this can be as simple as providing children with birth certificates so they can enroll in school, or distributing school kits so students have the equipment needed to study. In other cases, we are working to create better access to schools, apprenticeships programs, or community services groups where young adults can help with heavy or dangerous farm work instead.

Work to expand and broaden our efforts is ongoing. But, as we look to achieve zero incidents by 2025, now is a good moment to reflect on lessons learned so far.

Firstly, tackling child labor has to be an ongoing effort. Our monitoring process involves twice-yearly visits to farming households by local farming coaches – members of the community trained to support their peers during the summer period when children are likely to be home and during the harvest period when there are more people working. In addition, when farming coaches visit at other times on other business, they are taught to look out for signs of child labor at the same time. This ‘insider’ approach to CLMRS means we can keep our ears to the ground and take action quickly where needed.

If any child is found to be engaging in a hazardous activity, the information is immediately entered into an evaluation tool designed with input from ICI. This is then verified before being shared with ICI for validation and for a recommendation on remediation activities. This process ensures that the remediation activities are appropriate and likely to be most effective over time.

This brings me to lesson number two: work closely with the experts who know best. ICI have been our partners since 2002, and it’s a relationship which allows us to maximize our impact when it comes to ending child labor.

The third lesson is that while child labor is a complex problem, so too are its solutions. Efforts need to happen on either side of monitoring and remediation. That’s why preventative measures in the form of education and awareness-raising are so important. But it’s also where the role of wider community wellbeing comes in. The reasons why families put their children to work are myriad, but they can be as simple as lacking money for school supplies or not having a school close enough to home. Supporting families and communities with such infrastructural needs can have a dramatic positive impact in reducing incidents of child labor, as it becomes easier to justify education as the alternative.

Within a few generations, the difference can be seen as well as felt. On the ground in Côte d’Ivoire, one cocoa farmer and father of 10 children, Kouassi Kouakou Mathieu, spoke about how he was deprived of an education by his parents. This has made him determined that his children should be educated – something he says is the only way to secure their future. Support in the form of school supplies and uniforms has helped in this regard.

Identifying incidents of child labor is just one part of a wider puzzle we must solve in order to achieve zero incidents of child labor in the Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate supply chain by 2025. As the world marks World Day Against Child Labor, now is the moment to think about how we can all contribute to filling in the missing pieces. At Cargill, we plan to progressively expand our efforts into new origin countries and across our entire cocoa and chocolate supply chain: this year we plan to reach an additional 8,300 farmers and nearly 10,000 children in nine cooperatives, while next year we have our sights set on reaching another 11,000 cocoa farmers as well as their households. The journey is already underway and we have a clear destination in mind: a world where children are free to be children, a world free from child labor.