Chocolate Industry Fails to Cut Down on Child Labour

A new report has emerged claiming that the chocolate industry has failed to cut child labour from its supply chains around the globe, with authors of the report stating that nearly 50% of children in certain areas are being employed by the chocolate industry. 

The news comes from a recent report published by the University of Chicago, who had been studying the supply chains of major chocolate manufacturers to identify evidence of child labour and modern slavery. 

According to the report, more than two-fifths of children (43%) aged between 5 and 17-years-old based in cocoa producing areas like the Ivory Coast and Ghana have been employed by the chocolate industry in one form or another, which marks a 13% increase over the past decade. 

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Authors of the report say that “the increase coincides with a 62% growth in cocoa production across the two countries,” and has led a number of children forced into a “hazardous” child labour scenario. In total, the report notes that 1.56 million children are engaged in the production of chocolate’s raw ingredients. 

They say that “for children living in agricultural households, hazardous child labor in cocoa production includes the use of sharp tools, undertaking land clearing activities, working long hours or at night, and exposure to agro-chemical products.” 

Kareem Kysia, Director of the Vulnerable Populations Research at the University of Chicago’s NORC division and lead author of the report has said that “as the overall production of cocoa increased dramatically, cocoa farming spread into areas of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana where infrastructure to monitor child labor was weak and awareness of laws regulating it was low.” 

“Interventions to stem hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector should target new, emerging areas of production and focus on efforts to reduce exposure to the component parts of hazardous child labor.” 

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The Guardian’s Oliver Balch notes that the report is particularly significant considering the fact that “back in 2001, big brands such as Nestle, Mars and Hershey signed a cross-sector accord aimed at eliminating egregious child labour. Despite missing deadlines to deliver on their pledge in 2005, 2008 and 2010, they continue to insist that ending the illegal practice remains their top concern.” 

Since publishing their findings, U.S. chocolate producer, Mars has said once again that child labour should not exist in its supply chain, and says it has put forward more than a billion dollars of funding to “fix a broken supply chain” that contains any child labour. 

The Guardian’s reporting quotes Charity Ryerson, the founder of an advocacy group called Corporate Accountability Lab, and says the chocolate industry has maintained a position of “mind-boggling hypocrisy.” 

“In the past 20 years, the cocoa industry has invested enormous skill and resources in public relations around sustainability, but the increase in child labour demonstrates it has utterly failed to bring that same expertise and investment to create real sustainability.” 

That same report states that “cocoa buyers flatly deny the charge, arguing that the issue is complex and not easily fixed. The explanations for repeated failure stretch from the legal (they don’t own the cocoa farms where abuses happen) to the practical (auditing is expensive; identifying origin farms is complex) through to the nit-picking.” 

The Fairtrade Foundation estimates that just 6% of the chocolate industry’s revenue figures are eventually returned to, and invested in their farmers. Impact Director at the Fairtrade Foundation, Louisa Cox says that helping farmers to diversify their crops as well as additional funding, training and technical assistance is needed to truly end rates of child labour in the supply chains of the chocolate industry. 

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