Child labor is a complex problem. Here’s how we’re addressing it for children like Anne.
July 12, 2022
Here’s a troubling statistic: At the beginning of 2020, one in 10 children aged 5 and over were involved in child labor worldwide. According to estimations by the United Nations (UN), that equates to roughly 160 million children, with 70% of child labor concentrated in the agriculture sector.
It’s even more worrisome to learn that the number of laboring children could rise by 8.9 million by the end of this year, due to spikes in poverty and vulnerability.
For Cargill, these statistics are unacceptable. Our company’s commitment to respecting human rights is fundamental and is anchored in our values and Guiding Principles: A responsible supply chain must protect people and respect human rights.
“We’re focused on addressing the root causes of child labor by increasing and diversifying farmer incomes, expanding economic opportunities for women, improving access to quality education and promoting community wellbeing,” says David Schwebel, human rights manager for Cargill. “Of course, we understand that the journey towards the eradication of child labor is far greater than the actions or interests of any one organization. We all have a role to play.”
Cargill is working with governments, peers, customers, local and international non-governmental organizations, farmers and their families, and others. Here’s how our work is making an impact against child labor.
A tragic story, a happy ending back at school.
Anne Koffi Akoua was only 2 years old when her mother died. Her father passed away too, not long after. She went on to live with her grandmother Delphine, a cocoa farmer living in the village of Manzanouan, in Cote d’Ivoire. Anne could no longer find enough courage to go to school.
That’s when Alphonse Yao Aya stepped in.
“When I came into Delphine’s farm, I saw this little girl on the farm,” he recalls. “She was carrying heavy loads to help her grandmother, who had taken her in.”
Alphonse is a community facilitator who plays a key role in implementing our Child Labor Monitoring and Remediating System (CLMRS), an approach to prevent, monitor and remediate child labor. CLMRS is one of the most widely accepted and implemented approaches to tackling child labor. It allows us to track child labor in our supply chain and to work closely with families and communities to provide the right support.
“I have been coaching Delphine on best practices for her farm since 2016,” Alphonse remembers. “When I spoke to her, I understood that it was Anne who no longer wanted to go to school.”
CLMRS is built around community facilitators like Alphonse, who visit households, raise awareness on the types of child labor, and identify children engaged in harmful work — work that is defined as “mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and/or interferes with their schooling,” according to the International Labour Organization. Through constant support and communication, Alphonse was able to help Anne return to school.
Child labor is a complex problem. Even after receiving support, a child may still engage in hazardous work. For that reason, constant monitoring is central for the success of the CLMRS. Alphonse stayed close to Anne and her grandmother, and it was that relationship that secured Anne’s return to school.
“Being in the intimacy of a family is a strong act; by sharing the good and bad times, you build a trust that nothing can alter,” Alphonse says. “Anne knows today that with me she has found a surrogate father and that I monitor her results very closely as I do for my own children.”
Life has taken a turn for Anne. She finished her first year back at school top of the class, and her grades have not dipped since. Most importantly, though, she is happy to be back in the classroom.
“I get up at 5 in the morning with the joy of the day ahead,” she says. “When I see the work of the people who helped me, I tell myself that I would like to do the same for others. I am very lucky because I am loved. I want to continue doing well and make my grandmother proud.”
Learn more about the progress we are making in the cocoa supply chain here.
More of our efforts
Protecting children in the Philippines coconut supply chain:
In 2021, Cargill and other organizations conducted an assessment to better understand the prevalence and root causes of child labor in the coconut supply chain in the Philippines. This is a complex industry that begins with millions of smallholder farmers often based in remote areas which makes it more difficult to get full visibility of the coconut supply chain.
Child labor was found to be higher in areas with poor social and economic infrastructure. Families in these areas are essentially trapped in a vicious circle of lack of basic education, inadequate knowledge of good agricultural practices, and insufficient means to hire formal laborers. Children as young as 7 may be at risk of not attending school.
To counter this, Cargill and its partners will focus the next two years on raising awareness on the issue across the industry, improving farmer livelihoods through training, and designing due diligence systems that will identify, address and remediate child labor.
Guarding children’s rights in our palm oil business — a lifelong commitment
Keeping children safe is just the tip of the iceberg, says Yunita Widiastuti, sustainability lead of the tropical palm business. She explains that the protection of a child’s rights starts with a healthy birth — and enables them to thrive into adulthood.
That’s why Cargill partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2019 to integrate child rights into core business operations and improve the livelihoods of employees and their families.
Implemented for our 18,000 employees in Cargill’s Indonesia palm operations, the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) pilot project is creating better conditions for children — as well as for women and their families. The pilot addresses children’s rights in all stages of life — from pregnancy to education and beyond.
“The CRBP program helps us understand challenges so we can continuously improve to better protect our employees and their children,” says Yunita. “We’re gratified that it has been recognized as a best practice by our NGO partners.”
Learn more about the CRBP here.