Global civil society calls cocoa sector to action on child labour

Friday, 11 June 2021

On the International Day for the Elimination of Child Labour, dozens of civil society organisations from across the world – in both consuming and producing nations – are calling cocoa companies and governments to start living up to decades-old promises to tackle child labour in the cocoa sector.

This year should have been a landmark in the fight against child labour in cocoa. Instead, the cocoa sector as a whole has been conspicuously quiet on this topic.

It is time that the cocoa sector lived up to its promises and started to deliver on a sector wide and ambitious plan to tackle child labour and poverty. The industry’s collective silence this year is shameful and inappropriate.

Read the full statement here (in English and in French).

VOICE Statement on LID Payments

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

In the past weeks, the governments of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have accused three companies – Hershey, Olam and Mars – of trying to avoid the payment of the LID (a premium on top of the world market price for cocoa, aimed to increase the income of cocoa farmers, announced a year ago). Though details are unclear, there are three principles in this discussion that the VOICE Network would like to underline.

First, in order to achieve a Living Income – which is a human right – the payment of higher prices to farmers is going to be essential. The prices that farmers receive for their cocoa should be going up, not down, and the LID has been a crucial first step. Any company that claims to pursue sustainable cocoa should be demonstrably involved in processes to raise the farm gate price, with the goal to achieve a living income. Any company attempting to lower prices is not pursuing sustainability.

That farm gate prices (i.e. the price farmers get) need to go up has been true for the last two decades, but is even more important now because of the impacts of COVID-19 on the cocoa market, with farmers losing income and seeing costs of living rise.

Second, the discussion shows the need for much more transparency and accountability for the cocoa sector, especially around supply chains and prices. It raises serious questions about the untraceable nature of cocoa bought and sold at the terminal markets, and brings new urgency to the need to make such markets fully traceable. Worldwide, it should always be clear where cocoa is sourced from, whether fair prices are paid to farmers, and whether environmental and social concerns are being addressed in this sourcing. Without traceability, it is simply not possible to ensure cocoa is free of deforestation, child labor, or other abuses. Without transparency it is impossible to hold actors accountable for their actions.

Third, we are concerned that farmers have been made the bargaining chips in this conflict. When the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments suspended Hershey’s sustainability programmes, necessary support to farmers and farmer organisations was put at risk – including child labour intervention systems, the payments of premiums, and input support from certification systems. There must be ways to challenge multinationals without further putting pressure on the already vulnerable position of farmers. Furthermore, farmers and local civil society should be consulted in an inclusive and deliberative manner prior to the introduction of measures that significantly affect farmers. 

The bottom line must be: governments and industry should maintain farmer’s rights and wellbeing as a top priority in all considerations of cocoa prices. Companies should stop shortchanging farmers, locking them into dire poverty, and authorities should not punish companies in a way that jeopardizes farmers. At minimum the chocolate industry should pay the LID price to farmers, and in fact should be paying each and every cocoa farmer a living income price for West African cocoa of $3,166 or more.

Cocoa Barometer 2020 released

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Cocoa Barometer demands system change to end cocoa poverty

After two decades of failed interventions across the cocoa sector, cocoa farming communities are still battling the effects of poverty, child labour and deforestation. The 2020 Cocoa Barometer report published this week is a rallying call to action: it outlines the necessary steps governments and industry should take, together with farmers and civic society organisations, to end deforestation and human rights abuses in cocoa supply chains.

As a biennial review of sustainability in the cocoa sector, the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report provides stark details of how little positive impact current and past interventions are having for the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain. Twenty years into rhetoric, the challenges on the ground remain as large as ever. Poverty is still the daily reality for virtually all West African cocoa farmer families, child labour remains rife and old growth forests continue to be cleared to make way for cocoa production.

Now is an important window of opportunity to move towards justice, as momentum for change is gathering across different stakeholders. Thanks to campaigning civil society organisations, the last two years have seen an increasing number of chocolate companies asking for regulation; significant global actors like the EU are committed to putting legislation in place; and the world’s two largest producers of cocoa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, have formed a cartel to drive up the price for cocoa farmers.

“After two decades of voluntary initiatives that do not tackle the root causes, it is time for systemic change in the sector,” says Cocoa Barometer co-author Antonie C. Fountain of the VOICE Network. “All the ingredients are there to make it work, but it is now time to move forward, and put in place ambitious, holistic and mandatory change, so that we can finally tackle the poverty, child labour and deforestation in cocoa.”

But to seize this moment, it is vital that the sector learns from its mistakes, or it risks repeating them. The report finds that the last two decades of interventions have failed for three main reasons.

First, efforts have only been voluntary, not mandatory, meaning that across the sector, actors are failing to do what they need to. Within the multitude of government-driven covenants, national multi-stakeholder platforms and sector-wide collaborations, there are no penalties for noncompliance from companies or governments, nor enforcement to meet targets. Ironically, however, those at the bottom – cocoa farmers often living below the poverty line – do lose their sustainable cocoa certification if they do not comply. Whilst we’ve seen a significant increase in regulatory processes and commitments to due diligence, they are limited without accountability, transparency and equitable enforcement.

Second, whilst bad farming practice has been addressed, the underlying problems that exacerbate extreme poverty – including low cocoa prices, lack of infrastructure and no transparency and accountability as you move higher in the supply chain – remain unchallenged and unsolved. There needs to be recognition that in its current form, the business model for high yields of cocoa means poverty for farmers and excessive profit for chocolate manufacturers. It’s time this changed.

Third, efforts to solve complex issues of injustice and unsustainability in the cocoa sector have not been inclusive or holistic enough. Instead of inviting farmers and civic society to take a respected seat at the decision-making table, problems have been assessed using a top-down industry-based approach. This serves the interests of industry and government, rather than the producer farmers and their communities.

“We are at the crossroads” says Isaac Gyamfi, managing director for Solidaridad in West Africa. “Do we continue skirting around the issue of farmers wellbeing, or will all stakeholders together radically redesign value distribution and decision making in the cocoa sector? Let’s make space at the table and assure a living income, for both farmers and workers”.

Acknowledging how previous interventions have failed points us to alternative pathways that can put an end to deforestation, poverty and human rights abuses in cocoa supply chains. The report makes three key recommendations:

1. Regulation that changes the system, rather than penalising the farmers
Recognising that bad farming is not the problem, but rather a symptom of a deeply unfair system, the report advocates for systems change and regulation that creates an enabling environment. Current forms of certification and farm-based standards increase pressure on farmers: instead, we need laws that hold the powerful accountable, rather than systems that demand farmers to solve systemic issues. Compliance criteria are imbalanced and need restructuring so that companies are held accountable to due diligence systems.

2. Effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries
We need partnership agreements between producer and consumer countries that facilitate and finance system change, ensuring the right policies are in place. Processes that set partnerships in motion should be inclusive and deliberative, ensuring that civil society and farmer groups have a respected voice at decision-making tables.

3. Deliver on a fair price for farmers
The single biggest positive impact for farmers and incentive for farming sustainably is delivering a fair price for the cocoa they produce. Cocoa and chocolate companies must find ways to redistribute value along the supply chain so that farmers are guaranteed a living income.

Sandra Sarkwah, Coordinator for the Ghana Civil-Society Cocoa Platform (GCCP), supports the publication of the Cocoa Barometer 2020. “Efforts of sector players to change the story of farmers keep on beating about the bush when evidence presents to us the plight of farmers, thus, low income from their hard work is a major threat to cocoa sustainability” she said. “Processors, chocolate manufacturing companies and retailers who earn a large chunk from the value chain must be fair to farmers by paying a living income and this must reach the farmer”. As recommended in the report, Sarkwah confirms “this will require the efforts of various actors, including civil society organisations in both producing and consuming countries, as well as strong farmer cooperatives to demand transparency and accountability for effective delivery of pricing policies for better farm gate prices for farmers”.

The full 2020 Cocoa Barometer report can be read here: www.cocoabarometer.org

The Cocoa Barometer is published biennially by a global consortium of civil society actors; ABVV/Horval, Be Slavery Free, European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), Fair World Project, Fern, Green America, Hivos, INKOTA-netzwerk, Global Labor Justice/International Labor Rights Forum, Mighty Earth, Oxfam America, Oxfam Belgium, Rikolto, Solidaridad, Südwind Institut, Tropenbos International.

VOICE response to latest NORC research on child labour in the cocoa sector

Monday, 23 November 2020

Despite two decades of efforts, the cocoa sector has still not been able to significantly reduce – let alone eliminate – child labour on West African cocoa farms. According to a new report by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC), 1.5 million children are working in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. 95% of the child labourers are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, such as working with dangerous tools or harmful pesticides.

The main reason why the problem of child labour has not been solved is simple; it didn’t have to be eliminated. The efforts of the past two decades were entirely voluntary. Companies could engage with the problem in any manner they saw fit, and there have been exactly zero consequences for failing to meet the parade of promises made by the cocoa industry in the past decade.

The report shows that some forms of child labour are even getting worse. The strong increase of children using pesticides is an especially grave cause for concern. More than forty percent of children interviewed reported feeling very tired or even exhausted because of child labour. A third of children were in very bad pain, a quarter felt very sick, and one in ten children had to receive treatment at a medical centre. All in all, these figures are shocking, and urgent efforts must be undertaken to safeguard children from these hazards to their health. 

A companion study on the efficacy of industry interventions to reduce child labour – commissioned by the cocoa and chocolate industry – was simultaneously released. It shows that when industry does choose to invest time and effort in child labour reduction approaches, progress can be made. Though it raises the question why these investments were not made much earlier and on a larger scale, the VOICE Network welcomes the intention of several multinational cocoa and chocolate companies to roll out these programmes to all the cocoa farmers they source from. We call on all other companies to follow suit immediately. 

However, such programs reduce child labour only by roughly 30%. The main cause of child labour is poverty, and child labour will persist as long as the cocoa and chocolate industry is not serious about ensuring a living income to all cocoa farming families around the world.

Other drivers of child labour, including a lack of healthcare and education, require efforts by local governments who are responsible for the infrastructure needed for childcare and education. The VOICE Network calls on all cocoa-producing governments, but especially the Ghanaian and Ivorian governments, to dramatically improve and expand efforts to provide education and other vital services to children, and crack down on child labor and other abuses in cocoa. There is also an increasing need for clarity and ownership of the concept of child labour and child work, which should be informed by national inclusive and deliberative processes. This should be anchored in existing national legislation, which is based on the ILO Core Conventions and takes into account the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What is needed now are mandatory due diligence regulations that cover both human rights and environmental harms, as well as an urgent plan to safeguard children from exposure to pesticides, a full roll out of child labour monitoring and remediation systems to all cocoa sourcing from West Africa, coordinated national agricultural and rural development policies and investments in infrastructure. Lastly, these must be coupled with a strong income increase to ensure cocoa farming households reach a living income, part of which must include payments of higher cocoa prices at ‘farm-gate’.

2020 Cocoa Barometer Launch Webinar; December 1st 16:00 CET

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

2020 Cocoa Barometer Launch Webinar
December 1st 2020 16:00 – 17:30 CET

The Cocoa Barometer Consortium invites you to the launch of the 2020 Cocoa Barometer.

This sector-defining publication, outlining the state of sustainability of the cocoa sector, provides an overview of the current sustainability developments in cocoa and chocolate, and highlights critical issues that are not receiving sufficient attention.

During the launch event, you can join the debate with the authors of the report, representatives of West-African civil society, the cocoa industry, and the European Union.

There will be ample opportunity for questions and answers. 

Please register for this event here.

There will be simultaneous translation from English into French.

https://www.voicenetwork.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/logo_INKOTA_farbig_gross-300x48.jpg  Logo of Oxfam-Wereldwinkels   Logo of Solidaridad Logo of Südwind Institut 

With financial support from 

New joint paper: key elements for an agreement between the EU and cocoa producing countries.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

The European Commission is exploring bilateral agreements with the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to ensure sustainability in the cocoa sector, and in particular to tackle deforestation, farmer poverty and child labour. 

The aim of these agreements should be to ensure a transition towards sustainable cocoa production that provides farmers with a living income, while ensuring that EU cocoa consumption does not contribute to child labour and deforestation. As the EU imports most of the cocoa coming from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and many of the cocoa companies have major operations in the EU, such an agreement could be very effective. 

Thirteen European, Ghanaian and Ivorian organisations have come together to launch a discussion paper.

It outlines our vision for a new partnership agreement between the European Union and the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to tackle deforestation, poverty and social issues in the cocoa sector.It explores what an agreement should look like, how it should be negotiated, who should be involved, and how it could work with expected new EU laws to address imported deforestation and human rights abuses.  

We developed the paper over six months of extensive discussions with NGOs in the EU, in Ghana and in Côte d’Ivoire. The paper does not present a final position, but outlines the issues that negotiations in Brussels, Accra and Abidjan should consider.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Cocoa Barometer Consortium releases consultation paper on agroforestry in the cocoa sector

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Cocoa Barometer Consortium is pleased to launch our latest consultation paper, on agroforestry in the cocoa sector. 

Cocoa agroforestry systems can bring a wide range of ecological benefits; biodiversity conservation of flora and fauna, carbon sequestration, preserving and strengthening soil moisture and fertility, contributing to pest control, and microclimatic control such as stimulating rainfall, and many other benefits.

However, a large gap separates the current reality of agroforestry in the cocoa sector from its potential, and agroforestry should not replace forest areas, nor can simplified agroforestry be a substitute for more diverse agroforestry systems.

This paper highlights shortcomings in current industry and government approaches to agroforestry in cocoa. It also suggests a way forward to ensure that cocoa agroforestry delivers on its promise of environmental sustainability while contributing to farmers’ livelihoods. And it proposes basic parameters of integrated agroforestry cocoa standards on both farm and landscape scale and sets forward recommendations for all actors in the supply chain.

The paper is available here for online viewing, here for a pdf version, and here for a print friendly version.

COVID-19 response for Cocoa Farmers

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The VOICE Network and its members are deeply concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on cocoa farming households, a group already in a vulnerable position. Our immediate concern is for the health and wellbeing of members of cocoa farming households. We are equally concerned about the direct economic impact this global crisis will have on families, who live already well below a living income. During the 2016 price crash, the cocoa and chocolate industry made strong profits while farmers and producing governments lost billions of dollars. Cocoa and chocolate companies did virtually nothing then to support their farmers. This cannot happen again.

Today, we release a Call to Action to the cocoa and chocolate industry to do everything within their means to help protect their cocoa farmers. We offer four key considerations from the chocolate and cocoa industry which play into their role and responsibility, and mirrors responses we see in their employee care in consuming countries.

  1. Cease all non-essential farm visits
  2. Support communication to farming communities on health messaging
  3. Use existing supply chain mechanisms for provisioning farming communities
  4. Set up an emergency relief fund commensurate to the challenge

Our full paper can be read here.

Cocoa Barometer Consortium releases position paper on necessary farm gate prices for a living income in West African cocoa.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Currently almost no cocoa farmers in the main cocoa production countries in West Africa are earning a living income. Without a living income for cocoa farmers, cocoa will never be sustainable. If a farmer must choose between feeding his family, and not cutting down his old growth trees, it isn’t a choice. Other challenges facing the sector – such as deforestation and child labour – will be impossible to tackle if farmers still live in poverty.

It should be abundantly clear that living income is the starting point of a conversation on farmer income, not a finish line. Those people reading this paper would not be satisfied with earning just a living income. Why should a cocoa farmer? Every farmer should be able to earn at least a living income, but preferably a lot more.

Several initiatives in the past year have started to communicate about desired cocoa price levels for farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. The situation is not transparent, as each approach has a different methodology to calculate a living income and a different way to transfer additional money.

We believe, however, that these living income price calculations so far have erred significantly on the low side. In a paper released today by the Cocoa Barometer Consortium, we explain why we think current living income reference prices are too low, and why farm gate prices for farmers should be higher still.

Read the full paper here.

Cocoa companies call for human rights and environmental due diligence requirements

Monday, 2 December 2019

June 2020 update: since the original publication of this call for an EU Due Diligence requirement, various cocoa and chocolate companies have joined this coalition. In addition to the orginal industry signatories of Barry Callebaut, Mars Wrigley and Mondelez, we can add Nestlé, Tony Chocolonely and Unilever. An updated version of the document can be found here.

We, a group of companies (Barry Callebaut AG, Mars Wrigley and Mondelēz International), The VOICE Network*, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, call on the European Union, by far the largest importer and consumer of cocoa in the world, to strengthen human rights and environmental due diligence requirements of companies in global cocoa supply chains, aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

We strongly believe that we all need to take action together to effectively address some of the systemic human rights and environmental challenges in the cocoa supply chain. National governments must enforce and strengthen their own labour, child protection and environmental laws, and companies have a responsibility to conduct due diligence to identify risk, jointly evaluate remediation and take action which is proportionate to their exposure to the human rights and environmental risk.

Therefore, we think an EU-wide approach to due diligence will benefit all actors in the supply chain in terms of a clear and consistent set of rules and common intent.

The EU should:

  • Aim to negotiate bilateral agreements with cocoa origin governments to create the frameworks necessary to achieve this aim and provide financial and technical support to those governments to do so.
  • Establish a regulatory and policy framework within the EU to ensure that companies conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in their supply chains.  This will help encourage sustainable cocoa production, support consumer trust and help sustain market demand for cocoa from West Africa over the long term.

Find our Joint Position Statement outlining the details of our call to action here. We are looking forward to working with relevant authorities, the rest of the industry and various stakeholders to discuss what is proposed. We invite others to endorse our Joint Position Statement.

Media enquiries should be addressed to: antonie@voicenetwork.eu

* The VOICE Network is an association of NGOs and trade unions, functioning as a watchdog and catalyst for a reformed cocoa sector. Its members are ABVV/FGTB-HorvalBe Slavery Free (formerly Stop The Traffik)EFFAT (observer), FERNFNVGreen AmericaInkota NetzwerkInternational Labor Rights ForumMighty EarthOxfam NovibOxfam WereldwinkelsPublic Eye (observer), Solidaridad, and Südwind Institut.