It’s not what the industry expected. Not what people heavily committed to the cause expected. And yet, as plain as day, Tulane University’s “Survey Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas,” reported that “in 2013/14 2.03 million children were found in hazardous work on cocoa production” in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
The report looked at data from 2013/14, and compared it to data from the 2008/09 harvest season. Granted, the results in both countries were affected by strong growth in both cocoa production and population as well as civil strife in Cote d’Ivoire.
Still, the report found that, in the aggregate, the number of children working in cocoa production, in child labor in cocoa production as well as doing hazardous work in cocoa production have increased from 2008/09 to 2013/14.
Specifically, in Côte d’Ivoire, the number of children working in cocoa production increased 59 percent. The number of children doing labor in cocoa production increased 48 percent. And the number of children doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 46 percent.
Also, the percentage of children in hazardous work in cocoa production increased to 30.9 percent, up from 22.3 percent.
However, in Ghana, the numbers of children working in cocoa production, doing child labor in cocoa production, and doing hazardous work in cocoa production all fell slightly, by less than 6 percent. And, the percentage of children in hazardous work in cocoa production decreased to 39.3 percent, from 43.1 percent.
As one can imagine, these weren’t the kinds of numbers the industry had expected, especially after pouring millions of dollars into changing the situation.
As Bill Guyton, chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation says, “While we’re disappointed in the results of the Tulane survey, we’re not discouraged. Reducing child labor is a shared responsibility, and the industry remains committed to doing our part. We’re accelerating our efforts and are hopeful CocoaAction — our sustainability strategy — plays a significant role in necessary reductions.”
We all recognize this is a complex program, one that’s compounded by civil strife, government bureaucracies, infrastructure inadequacies, cultural and tribal barriers, sheer cocoa farmer numbers, graft, inadequate pay scales —do I need to continue?
But it has been 14 years since the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed on September 19, 2001 by representatives from the international cocoa/chocolate industry. The goal, as envisioned by the protocol or “framework,” was to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent by 2020.
As the report clearly asserts, “…while some progress has been made, the Harkin-Engel Protocol’s goal of a major reduction of the number of children in hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector has not come within reach.”
From my perspective, it’s time to turn on the heat, and that means getting the White House involved. Who better than to re-energize and redouble our efforts than President Obama, who’s Kenyan roots provide a direct link to this African, as well as global, challenge?
What better way to inspire and invigorate the grand efforts of countless individuals, organizations, volunteers and cocoa farmers than by convening a cocoa child labor summit attended by heads of state from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana as well as executives from multinationals in the cocoa/chocolate industries and non-governmental agencies?
It would be a sight to see — ceos and presidents “breaking chocolate” in order to “break the chain”?
Crazy? Perhaps. Doable? Not sure. Effective? Could be. Necessary? Ask those 2.03 million children.