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Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector
09/08/2015
Reflections on new study from Tulane University

Fair Trade does not simply aim to prohibit child labor, it aims to eliminate reliance on child labor by making cocoa farming a viable profession for generations to come.  

Globally almost 100 million children aged 5-17 work in agriculture (ILO). About half of these are unpaid family laborers, while many others are forced, trafficked, indentured, underpaid and/or working in hazardous conditions. Over 2 million of these children work in West African cocoa—where over 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown.

In a recent report from Tulane University, it was found that as cocoa production has increased, so have the number of children working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. We see this because, like many global issues, poverty is the primary root cause of child labor. And unless NGOs and industry strive to change the economics of cocoa farming, where today farmers earn abysmally low wages and are stuck in deep cycles of poverty, child labor will likely persist.

How much a cocoa farmer earns, which can be around $0.25-$0.50 a day in West Africa, is directly linked to their ability to pay for school tuition and school supplies, hire adult workers, and invest in safer, more sustainable practices. Today West African cocoa farmers also face challenges like aging trees and low productivity, but they don’t have enough money to invest in their farms and command higher prices in the long term.  

When Fair Trade USA began certifying cocoa in 2002, we did so with these realities in mind. Most importantly, Fair Trade aims to address the root causes of child labor by raising farmers’ incomes such that they can earn a sustainable livelihood. The primary vehicle to improve livelihoods is the Community Development Premium, which is unique to Fair Trade.

For every metric ton of Fair Trade cocoa sold, farmers earn an additional $200 Premium to invest in the long term sustainability of their communities and farms. Farmers vote to spend these funds on important needs like school tuition, wells for clean drinking water, and in some cases entirely new schools.  Amongst a group of about 2,000 farmers we certified in the Ivory Coast in 2013, for example, we saw primary school education levels increase from about 65% to 80% in one year due to the effective spending of Community Development Premiums on education initiatives. Many also purchased fertilizer and new seedlings to increase the productivity of their farms, and ultimately incomes over time. 

Fair Trade cannot solve every challenge in cocoa, but it is creating tangible, meaningful change, and it can be part of a much larger solution for farmers, industry and consumers. No one wants to eat a chocolate bar made with child labor, and no brand wants a vulnerable, high risk supply chain. Fair Trade's multi-pronged approach--focusing on the intersection between standards, auditing, true farmer empowerment, and direct economic benefit--offers a path forward. 


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