Child labour found in Fairtrade cocoa plantations

Next year marks the 20th year for the first promises from the chocolate industry to end child labor in Ivory Coast's cocoa plantations. However, more children than ever before are working in the Ivory Coast. Investigative media Danwatch found child laborers in 4 out of 6 Fairtrade certified plantations supplying European consumers.
30. July 2020
Next year marks the 20th year for the first promises from the chocolate industry to end child labor in Ivory Coast's cocoa plantations. However, more children than ever before are working in the Ivory Coast. Investigative media Danwatch found child laborers in 4 out of 6 Fairtrade certified plantations supplying European consumers.
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En Danwatch-undersøgelse

Child labour found in Fairtrade cocoa plantations

Sagen kort

  • ​I juni 2020 var Danwatch i Elfenbenskysten for at undersøge omfanget af børnearbejde på kakaoplantager, der sælger deres kakao som bæredygtig.
  • Børnearbejde er forbudt i Elfenbenskysten, men alligevel fandt Danwatch børn, der arbejdede, i 8 ud af 10 kakaoplantager, vi besøgte.  I alt mødte vi 15 børn og interviewede 13 af dem.
  • Alle plantager er en del af et bæredygtighedsprogram, der skal afskaffe børnearbejde. 6 af plantagerne levere til kooperativer, som er certificeret af mærkningsordningen Fairtrade. Der var børn, der arbejdede på 4 af de 6 Fairtradeplantager.
  • I 2001 skrev chokoladeindustrien under på, at det skulle være slut med børne- og tvangsarbejde i kakaoplantagerne i Elfenbenskysten, hvor størstedelen af verdens kakao produceres, men der er flere børnearbejdere i Elfenbenskysten end nogensinde før.
  • Af hensyn til børnenes sikkerhed har vi valgt at skjule deres identitet og ansigter, samt navne og adresser på plantager og kooperativer. Fairtrade er orienteret om disse oplysninger, så de har mulighed for at udbrede vilkårene for familierne.

The children are not supposed to be in the plantations, harvesting cocoa with sharp machetes and carrying buckets of drinking water for hours. But they have no other choice. 

This morning in June 2020, the heat is close to 25 degrees celsius and the humidity is 100 percent. A little guy in an open green shirt carries cocoa beans in a sack strapped to a branch above his head. He is 8 years old, his father says. His stomach glistening with sweat, he looks to the ground, he does not want to talk to journalists.

His brother, Tresor, 12, does. With the machete he chops up the yellow and green cocoa pods so the white beans appear. There can be 20-60 cocoa beans in one pod. He drags the cocoa beans into the sun, where they have to dry and ferment for a little more than a week before the dried beans are poured into bags. It is also Tresor’s job to fill and carry the bags. 

The bags of cocoa beans are driven by truck to the cooperative which supply Cargill and Nestle. A search on the homepage of FLOCERT, which is Fairtrade’s certification partner, confirms that this cooperative is Fairtrade certified.

Here, in the cocoa regions of the Ivory Coast, 129,000 cocoa farmers supply 217 Fairtrade cooperatives with cocoa, which is exported globally as certified sustainable cocoa by large international cocoa traders like Cargill, Blommer and Barry Callebaut. 

Fairtrade promises the consumers a fair price to the farmer – and prohibit child labour. However, Fairtrade also say that there are no guarantees.  In 4 out of 6 visited Fairtrade certified plantations, Danwatch found children working. 

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I have told them not to help, but they say: ’Dad, you have nothing. We are poor. So we do what we can to help you’.

Long working days and no school

Nearby, two young men are shaking cocoa pods down from the yellow tree tops with sticks and a younger boy picks up the pods. Two women wearing kangas as skirts and scarves around their heads move through the forest with plastic bottles with water for the workers, one of the women has her baby wrapped to her back.

The rhythmic sound from a cane and a machete comes from a boy in a green and yellow striped sweater with the sleeves cut off, he is weeding under the cocoa trees. Badinie is 15 years old and originally from Burkina Faso, he says. His work day begins at 7 and ends at 4 p.m. He scratches his arm and looks away as he speaks to us.

– What grade are you in?

“I graduated from 4th grade in Burkina Faso,” says Badinie.

Why not ask your dad if you can stay home?

“Because school has stopped where we live. Then I might as well come here and help my father with the work ”.

– What do you want to be in the future?

“I would like to become a journalist or learn a craft”.

Here, about 200 km north of the country’s capital, Abidjan, a few handfuls of Fairtrade-certified cooperatives are scattered around in the southwestern part of the Ivory Coast. In total, we meet 11 children who harvest cocoa in four plantations that supply Fairtrade certified cooperatives. We also came across a cooperative that is not Fairtrade certified, but still sells their cocoa through a Fairtrade cooperative to international chocolate producers. Against the rules of Fairtrade.

The children harvest with razor-sharp machetes up to 11 hours a day, or they lift heavy buckets of water or cocoa bags, which is classified as hazardous child labour by ILO and illegal in the Ivory Coast. Most of them do not go to school at all and the few, who usually go to school are sent home because of COVID19. The work is hard, but they do it to help their parents. Nobody complains. They do what it takes.

One audit in 18 months

Responding to the findings of Danwatch, Fairtrade states that, “we take these allegations seriously”.

According to Johnna Philips, Director for External Relations at Fairtrade International, Danwatch findings have triggered Fairtrade International’s Protection Policy for Children and Vulnerable Adults. 

Child labour is strictly prohibited in the Fairtrade Standards; however, no company, certification scheme, organization or person can guarantee that no child labour exists in the production and processing of commodities. Certification is one of many interventions used to address the child labour problem. The reality is that child labour in West Africa cocoa production remains a persistent problem”, Johhna Philips writes in an email.

For the past six months, all audits to Fairtrade cooperatives have been impossible due to travel restrictions under COVID19, Fairtrade says. However they also say, it has been one and and half year since Fairtrade did their last audit in this region.

Children labour is not the only issue for Fairtrade. The Fairtrade price for cocoa has set fire to the criticism of the sustainability brand.

An 8 year old boy, according to his father, is carrying cocoa beans in a sack on his head in a cocoa plantation supplying a Fairtrade cooperative.

The price of Fairtrade 

The reality is that well over two thirds – 77 percent – of Fairtrade certified cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast live below the poverty line, which is 1,27 USD a day in the Ivory Coast, according to a survey by Fairtrade in 2018

The short explanation is that the price for cocoa isn’t high enough for them to make a living from it. More specifically, it results in only 7 percent of Fairtrade farmers in Côte d’Ivoire actually receiving a living wage.

In the 2018-survey among 3,000 cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, Fairtrade asked farmers about their income and expenses. They found that if Fairtrade farmers with a household of eight members are to reach a living income, they must earn a meridian income of 7318 USD a year. However, when Fairtrade asked the same 3,000 farmers about their actual income, they found that the farmers earn an average of 2707 USD a year. 

A difference of 4611 USD a year. 

A Fairtrade certified cocoa farmer gets a fixed price for her harvest, no matter how much the global price fluctuates, and she is also assured of the profit if the global price exceeds Fairtrade’s minimum price.

In 2020, the direct Fairtrade price paid directly to the cocoa farmer is 1.6 USD per kg if the farmer and the cooperative sell all their cocoa on Fairtrade terms, which is rarely the case. On top of this, a Fairtrade Premium of 200 USD per tonnes is payed to the cooperative – not the farmer – for them to share in solidarity. 

By comparison, in July 2020, a non-certified farmer will receive 1.4 USD pr kg/ 1 euro pr kg.

Antonie C. Fountain, a cocoa specialist from the Voice Network, a network of NGOs working for better conditions in the cocoa industry, says:

“When you know how much you should pay and don’t pay it, it cannot be sustainable. Fairtrade should make a real commitment and publish a timeline for when they expect to be able to pay a living wage,” says Antonie C. Fountain.

But according to Fairtrade if the price for cocoa is too high, the farmers won’t be able to sell the cocoa they produce. 

“We absolutely agree that paying farmers a price that supports a living income is a key part of reducing farmer poverty and addressing one of the root causes of child labour”, Philips writes and highlights that the current Fairtrade price for cocoa is set “in consultation with farmers”.

“We also raised our mandatory Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium by 20%, and the governments will be implementing their $400 per tonne living income differential starting this October. We support this move to improve the incomes of all cocoa farmers and level the playing field”, Johhna Philips writes in an email to Danwatch.

20 years of broken promises

Next year marks the 20th year for the Harkin Engel Protocol, a US initiative where the chocolate industry promised to eradicate child labour. One of the solutions from the chocolate industry was sustainability programs and certification schemes, such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance/UTZ.

In 2010, after nine years, the chocolate industry was nowhere near fulfilling their promises. But this time again, they pledged to decrease child labor, this time by 70 percent before 2020. 

Today, six months before deadline, the number of sustainability schemes have exploded – as many as 92 livelihood programs plus certification schemes such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance/UTZ in the Ivory Coast and Ghana cocoa sector – a Fairtrade/Mondeléz study show. 

There are also more child laborers in the Ivory Coast than ever before. 

According to a unpublished study, Assessing Progress in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Cocoa Growing Areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (2020) from University of Chicago funded by the US Labor Department, a staggering 1,1 million children are currently working in the Ivory Coast.

This comes as no surprise to the cocoa industry despite 215 million USD in industry investments, Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation, writes to Danwatch.

“Data over the past few years has already indicated that the joint goal for a 70% reduction in the worst forms of child labor by 2020 will not be achieved. This target was set without fully understanding the complexity and scale of a challenge heavily associated with poverty in rural Africa”, Scobey writes. 

None of the efforts have worked, says Enrique Uribe Leitz, an expert in sustainability programs and agricultural economics from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“The measures taken by industry  and certification programs have not had the desired effect on the ground in the Ivory Coast, there is still child labor, in fact even more child labor as recently shown on a study by the University of Chicago”,  Uribe Leitz says.

The main reason for the failure of the system is the aim of making the cocoa, not the farmers livelihood, sustainable, Uribe Leitz points out. 

“Only by understanding the farmers’ situation and considering it in the development of their environment we will be able to create a sustainable system. In relation to sustainability certifications, in particular, the perception of what is good for farmers should not be as strongly influenced by industry and the public as it is today”, Uribe Leitz says. 

Why is there more child labour than ever before?

The paradox simplified here is that the many investments in sustainable cocoa production have urged farmers to grow a crop that they cannot eat, and kept them from growing crops that they can actually live from. 

So says Michael E. Odijie, PhD from the Center of African Studies, University of Cambridge. He is author of the study, Sustainability winners and losers in business-biased cocoa sustainability programs in West Africa

Cocoa beans can neither be eaten by people nor used as animal feed. Cocoa cultivation depletes the soil and requires fresh soil, so tropical rainforest is cut down to make room, creating massive problems with deforestation. 

Only a very small part of the cocoa beans are made into chocolate in West Africa, and the cocoa therefore has the least value for those who bear the highest risk of growing it, the farmers. So cocoa only has value to farmers, when it is sold for export. 

More than half of the world’s cocoa production – 60 percent – comes from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. 

“But growing cocoa in Ivory Coast today is twice as expensive as in 1990”, says Michael E. Odijie.

After decades of cocoa production the land is depleted, he argues, and more than 80 percent of Ivory Coast’s protected rainforest has been felled to make way for cocoa cultivation. Therefore, farmers must plant new cocoa trees in the same soil.

“If cocoa farmers choose to replant their depleted land, they need more labor – in fact, two to six times as much labor – to continue producing the same amount of cocoa,” says Michael E. Odijie.

When the price of cocoa for the farmer remains largely the same – 825 FCfa or 1,24 euro a kg –  but the cocoa is harder to grow, the cocoa farmer returns to family labor. That is, take the children out of school and puts them to work.

“In short, there is a connection between deforestation and the increase in child labor,” says Michael E. Odijie.

When the focus is on getting more cocoa out of the same soil that is being depleted, then it requires more hands. Small and cheap hands.

Cocoa sustainability schemes are designed for the benefit of multinational chocolate companies and at the expense of diversification in West African countries. Without sustainability programs, cocoa farmers would start growing other crops,” says Michael E. Odijie.

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