According to current estimates, more than 160 million children are affected by child labor. This is the first time in 20 years that the number has increased. And researchers expect it to rise even further as a result of the Corona pandemic. This makes it all the more important that companies and politicians are now doing everything they can to combat the problem. On the cocoa farms of Yayra Glover Ltd. there have not been any cases of child labor for years, thanks to intensive educational work, regular farm visits and bonuses that the farmers can use to send their children to school. Since June, fairafric has an extension officer who collects data on the situation on the farms directly for us and independently of other organizations. In this blog post you will learn what his work looks like and why it is so important. But first we would like to give you some general information about child labor. What does this term really mean, what are the regulations and what is the current situation on cocoa farms in Ghana?
The different forms in which child labor exists
One of the main problems in recognizing and avoiding child labor is its identification This is because not all work performed by minors is automatically considered child labor. As the International Labor Organization (ILO) describes: “Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays”
This so-called “light work” may be performed by children even before they reach adolescence. However, official employment of minors outside the home is not permitted until they reach a certain minimum age. This is between 14 and 16 years in most states. In Ghana and Germany, minors must be at least 15 years old to participate in the labor market. Even then, however, there are many regulations that must be followed. These children’s rights are laid down in the conventions of the ILO or the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child. The latter states:
“States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and not to be required to perform work which is likely to be hazardous, to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” (Art. 32, para. 1)
If this right is disregarded, it is no longer light work or legal employment, but child labor. Here, the UN and ILO again distinguish between the illicit employment of children and hazardous work. The latter includes, for example, night work, work with dangerous substances or machines, and even worse forms such as forced labor, child prostitution or the use of children as soldiers. Although all 187 member states of the ILO signed the “Convention on the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor” in 1999, 79 million child workers are affected by these awful forms of exploitation today.
Child labor in cocoa farming
Millions of children still work in cocoa farming around the world. In West Africa alone, 1.6 million children work on cocoa farms. Some of them have to carry heavy loads, handle machetes or are exposed to toxic pesticides.
The chocolate industry has been promising to reduce the proportion of child labor for decades. As early as 2001, the eight largest chocolate companies (e.g. Nestlé, Mars and The Hershey Company) signed the Harkin-Engels Protocol, promising to end the worst forms of child labor. Over time, this goal was adjusted and shifted again and again, until it became only about reducing rather than ending child labor. Today, a full 20 years later, that has not been achieved either – on the contrary, the proportion of child labor in the cocoa sector has also risen sharply in recent years.
There are many reasons for the emergence and current rise of child labor in the cocoa sector. One of the most important is the current world market price of cocoa. It has averaged $2,200 in recent years, whereas in the 1970s and 1980s it was almost double that. With this price, cocoa farmers receive just one third of a living wage.
As a result, they cannot afford the children’s school fees nor can they hire helpers on the farms. Thus, they are often dependent on the cooperation of their own children in order to earn enough to secure their basic needs. This creates a vicious circle, because the children often have no prospects without schooling and must also work on the cocoa farms, where they can not escape poverty due to the low wages.
In 2020, the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire therefore introduced the so-called “Living Income Differential” (LID), a premium of 400 USD per ton cocoa, which must be paid in addition to the world market price. This is intended to close the gap between the living income and the actual wage. However, in order to really improve the situation of the farmers, even more money would have to be paid and, above all, structural changes would have to be promoted.
Action against child labor at fairafric
The farmers at Yayra Glover Ltd. who harvest the cocoa for our chocolate bars receive an organic premium of 600 USD per ton in addition to the price per ton and the LID. This enables the farmers to finance their children’s school fees. Nowadays, there are even some families whose children attend university.
In addition, the families are supported in creating additional sources of income. Organic cocoa cultivation and the associated education and training provided by Yayra Glover Ltd. also increase the yield on the farms. Probably the most important tool against child labor, however, is education within the communities. Experience has shown that farmers who are aware of the importance and benefits of schooling are more likely to make an effort to provide this opportunity for their children. This awareness is created and strengthened through targeted educational work by extension officers in the individual communities. They also visit farms to determine which families are at risk of using child labor.
fairafric extension officer Mubarak explains the approach as follows: “Households in the low-risk category receive an unannounced visit to the farm at least once a year. Households in the medium risk category receive immediate follow-up with a needs assessment, remediation, and monitoring during the child labor risk assessment. Households that fall into the high risk category are visited regularly. The extension officer conducts household surveys and raises awareness in households, farms, and communities. For children identified as involved in child labor, a needs assessment, remedial action, direct support to the child, and ongoing monitoring are initiated until it is clear that the child’s situation has improved, and he or she is attending school.”
Thanks to this approach and the additional supports, there are currently no cases of child labor on our suppliers’ farms. Now it is our goal to keep it that way and help risk families quickly and directly before cases of child labor occur. In order to get an even more accurate picture of the situation on the farms and to be able to communicate this, Mubarak, in addition to the extension officers of Yayra Glover Ltd. will collect and review data and prepare an annual report. He will work hand in hand with them, but with a special focus on implementing a Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System. This will allow us to be even more responsive to the concerns of the farmers in the future and ensure full transparency to you, our community and customers, as well.
Although child labor has been recognized as a pressing problem worldwide for decades and not only large corporations but also governments have promised to fight it, it still affects millions of children. As small businesses, but also as consumers who are not driven by profit, we can exert pressure from the bottom up. For example, the German Supply Chain Law Initiative has been working for two years to pass a corporate due diligence law. It was passed in June and now they are striving for further tightening the legislation. A great deal can also be achieved through conscious consumption, for example by buying products from companies that actively campaign against child labor. Products from direct fair trade are good as well. This means that the companies in the country of sale work directly with the local producers and can thus take better responsibility for their working conditions.
We at fairafric will continue to do everything we can to ensure that child labor finally is a problem of the past. In Mubarak’s words, “We will ensure that today’s generation of children can reach their full potential and have a chance at the bright future they deserve.”