6 January, 2020

Farmer poverty perpetuates the child labor crisis on cocoa farms

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by Dario Soto Abril, CEO of Fairtrade International

In addition to legislation, we must also address the socio-economic pressures and extreme poverty that cause cocoa farmers to resort to human rights violations.

Darío Soto Abril is the Chief Executive Officer of Fairtrade International, the multi-stakeholder, global nonprofit organization, which has been advocating for fairer trade terms that benefit farmers and workers around the world for over 20 years. In the U.S., Fairtrade America represents Fairtrade International.

The December 31, 2019, Washington Post article titled, “Chocolate companies ask for a taste of government regulation” shared details on a joint position statement, issued by the VOICE Network in December 2019. This statement was signed by chocolate companies and nonprofits, including Fairtrade International, in support of EU legislation that would help eliminate child labor and environmental abuses in our global cocoa supply.

Fairtrade International supports this call for legislation. Still, we recognize that there is no single solution to addressing the challenges farmers face in human rights and environmental sustainability issues. We believe more must be done to target the rampant poverty and socio-economic root of the issues that cause farmers to rely on the 2 million children engaged in labor in cocoa-growing regions. If we don’t, it’s likely these abuses will simply move into other areas.

Farming is the single largest employer in the world - two out of every five people farm - and those growing our food deserve a living income that affords nutritious food, clean water, decent housing, clothes, education and medical care.

When cocoa farmers are trapped in poverty, often living on less than $1/day, they can’t afford to invest in more efficient farming methods to improve their income. They can’t pay their workers a decent wage and often resort to using children for cheap labor. In 2018, Fairtrade International released a report showing 58 percent of 3,000 cocoa growing households surveyed lived in extreme poverty in Côte d’Ivoire.

After consultation, we increased the Fairtrade Minimum Price of cocoa by 20 percent and the Fairtrade Premium by 20 percent. This means that businesses purchasing Fairtrade Certified cocoa will pay farmers more for their crop - with the income going both towards farmers’ bottom line as well as into community projects decided by the cooperatives themselves. We also set voluntary living income reference prices for Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to show businesses the price farmers need to receive for their cocoa in order to enjoy basics such as decent housing, nutritious food and education.

In addition to addressing socio-economic root causes, Fairtrade International also works to stop human rights abuses at the farm level. On certified farms, incidents of violence against children, including the worst forms of child labor, identified by communities, workers, our third party FLOCERT auditors and/or our partners are reported to national protection agencies for remediation. In West African cocoa production, we have initiated programs to strengthen farmers’ organizations and make them more responsive to their members’ needs, enable women’s empowerment and trial child labor monitoring and remediation processes. In Belize, we’ve piloted programs with sugar farmer associations, young people and their communities. With this program, we aim to identify and respond not just to child labor occurring on farms, but also to children’s insecurities in and around farming communities.

We acknowledge the cost of monitoring and remediation programs is a barrier to implementing them at scale. How these costs are covered is a challenge that should be publicly recognized and addressed. Human Rights Due Diligence legislation does offer one solution by requiring all companies selling chocolate, cocoa or cocoa products  help pay for these systems as part of the true cost of production, thus creating a level playing field for businesses. We agree with this approach and call upon lawmakers to not put the legal burden of implementation on farmers already living in poverty.

Our vision is a world in which all farmers and workers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and shape their own future. We believe real change will come from the combination of voluntary certification to support systemic change and guaranteed pricing; regulatory frameworks across global markets; industry commitment to living income/living wages and supply chain due diligence; and consumer demand for farmers and workers to be able to earn living incomes and wages. We all have a part to play to support the farmers and workers growing the products we enjoy.

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