Children in West Africa are working in dangerous conditions to fuel a $100-billion chocolate industry that has failed to crack down on child labor, a US government-commissioned report found

Kate Duffy
·4 min read
FILE PHOTO: Workers sift cocoa beans in Soubre, Ivory Coast, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon/File Photo
Workers sift cocoa beans in Soubre, Ivory Coast Reuters
  • A new report commissioned by the US Department of Labor has revealed the staggering level of dangerous child labor in the $100 billion chocolate industry.

  • The report, from University of Chicago researchers, found that 1.56 million children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast were working in the industry.

  • Most of them were working in hazardous conditions, defined by working in the night, clearing land, carrying heavy loads, and using sharp tools, the report found.

  • In 2010, major chocolate companies vowed to cut 70% of the worst forms of child labor by 2020.

  • Kareem Kysia, one of the authors of the report, told Business Insider that support from big brands and industry organizations "needs to be scaled up."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Twenty years after the $100 billion chocolate industry pledged to tackle child labour in cocoa-growing communities, a new report sponsored by the US government reveals that the problem has worsened.

The report found vast numbers of children across Ghana and the Ivory Coast are working in dangerous conditions, including working at night, clearing land, carrying heavy loads, and using sharp tools to fuel the industry, which is expected to grow nearly 5% each year until 2027, according to a recent study by Grand View Research.

Nearly half of all children (45%) between the ages of five and 17 living in agricultural households in Ghana and the Ivory Coast are working in cocoa production, the research group NORC from the University of Chicago said in its report.

In total, around 1.56 million children are harvesting cocoa for chocolate in those countries, researchers found.

The vast majority of those children work in hazardous conditions, as defined by carrying heavy loads, exposure to agro-chemicals, working long hours such as at night, clearing land, or using sharp tools, the report found.

The number of children working in hazardous conditions has risen 30% in a decade, according to the report, commissioned by the US Department of Labor. 

Kareem Kysia, one of the authors of the report, told Business Insider that production of cocoa has increased massively, "so that means a lot more farms producing cocoa and those farms have children that live on them."

Chocolate industry hasn't done enough

What is worrying is that the chocolate industry has failed to resolve this issue, 20 years after they promised to.

Major chocolate manufacturers including Nestlé and Mars signed an agreement with members of the US Congress in 2001 to end child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa.

In 2010, the same companies vowed to cut 70% of the worst forms of child labor by 2020, and a year later pledged $2 million to a new partnership with the International Labor Organization. 

When asked if chocolate brands are doing enough, Kysia said that "what they're doing is effective, but it needs to be scaled up."

"If you have a big bucket of boiling water and you pour it in your bathtub, you'll be able to tell the change in temperature. But if you take that same bucket of boiling water and throw it in your swimming pool, you're not going to be able to see a change."

Charity Ryerson, founder of US campaign group Corporate Accountability Lab told The Guardian the chocolate industry was guilty of "mind-boggling hypocrisy." If it wished to, it could end child labour tomorrow, she said.

"In the past 20 years, the cocoa industry has invested enormous skill and resources in public relations around sustainability, but the increase in child labour demonstrates it has utterly failed to bring that same expertise and investment to create real sustainability."

In response to the NORC study, Mars released a statement saying that the company has donated $1 billion to help "fix a broken supply chain."

A Nestlé spokesperson said: "Child labor is simply unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for," adding that: "Unfortunately, it is still a reality in many countries."

The World Cocoa Foundation, which has about 100 member companies representing more than 80% of the global
cocoa supply chain, said Monday it would increase child labor monitoring by 2025 and invest $1.2 billion in additional revenues for cocoa farmers, on top of official market prices for beans.

Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation said in the statement that child labor reduction targets had been set "without fully understanding" the challenge ahead.

"Child labor remains a persistent challenge in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana," he said.

"Targets to reduce child labor 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."

Read the original article on Business Insider