Big Chocolate's Ugly Secret
According to the most recent research (courtesy of Tulane University), as of 2014, approximately 6 million children live in agricultural households in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire). Of those 6 million children, roughly 2.6 million work in the cocoa fields.
Children working a small amount is one thing, but as chocolate maker and slavery-fighter Tony’s Chocolonely states –
“A child working safely on his parents’ farm before or after school is not an issue (e.g. gathering cocoa pods from the ground). In fact, he or she helps the family while learning the ins and outs of the family farm. But it becomes a problem when a child is doing hazardous work or can’t go to school because of work.”
Unfortunately, Tulane estimates that nearly all of these children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast work as child laborers, over 2 million, and almost every single one of those children work in hazardous conditions as well. It’s an ugly, ugly side of the chocolate trade, particularly from giant chocolate companies (yes Nestle, we’re talking to you), and yet another reason why bean-to-bar, ethical chocolate makers stand out so importantly in today’s chocolate landscape.
THE HARKIN-ENGEL PROTOCOL
We’re making progress, but as you’re about to see, it’s a painfully slow process. Let’s take a look at how the struggle against chocolate child labor (or the chocolate slave trade as it’s often called) is currently evolving. Then we’ll uncover what each and every one of us can easily do to help in the fight.
Here in the US, we took a big first step towards eradicating child slavery back in 2001 when two congressmen, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel, worked with chocolate industry representatives to create an agreement aimed at eliminating “the worst forms of child labor in the growing and processing of cocoa beans,” according to CocoaInitiative.org.
The groundbreaking agreement became known as the “Harkin-Engel Protocol”. As CocoaInitiative.org says —
“It marked an important first — an entire industry, including companies from the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom, taking responsibility for addressing the worst forms of child labour in its supply chain.”
SLOW PROGRESS, MORE CHILD LABOR
Unfortunately the phrase “steps are being taken” has hollowly echoed for over 15 years now, with much too little changed. As anyone involved in the situation quickly learned, a protocol by itself doesn’t prevent child slavery. In fact, as of the numbers taken in 2008, seven years after the Harkin-Engel Protocol signing, there were still 1.76 million children working in child labor conditions between Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
All the players attached to the Harkin-Engel Protocol moved at a snail’s pace for nearly a decade. It wasn’t until 2010 that they even agreed upon a Framework of Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Meanwhile, nine years of relatively small movement did little to curb the child labor epidemic in cacao production.
There in 2010, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced a commitment of $10 million from the U.S. Department of Labor, and the public-private partnership also included “a $7 million commitment from the international chocolate and cocoa industry, with an additional $3 million in potential increases to existing projects meeting the goals of the Harkin-Engel Protocol.”
The goal of the framework was to, by 2020, reduce the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and the Ivory Coast by 70 percent. The plan included joint efforts to support children removed from child labor, including education and vocational training. It also included protective measures to address issues of occupational safety and health related to cocoa production, and livelihood services for the households of children in cocoa growing communities.
Unfortunately, the numbers show little progress. Tulane University’s last reported stats from 2014, and the numbers increased from 1.76 million in 2008 to over 2.1 million in 2014. Yes, overall cacao production increased significantly, so on a percentage basis the numbers are similar, but that does nothing to change the hard fact that over 2.1 million children work in forced labor conditions.
Tulane University’s last reported stats from 2014, and the numbers increased from 1.76 million in 2008 to over 2.1 million in 2014. Yes, overall cacao production increased significantly, so on a percentage basis the numbers are similar, but that does nothing to change the hard fact that over 2.1 million children work in forced labor conditions.