The global food giant, one of the world's biggest cocoa buyers, says it is going to work with the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to tackle the problem.
The promise comes ahead of an FLA investigation into Nestlé's cocoa supply chains in the Ivory Coast in January. And it acknowledges the lack of progress on child labour, said the company’s José Lopez.
“There’s a sense that maybe we have tolerated something like this for too long, he told the Financial Times. “That’s shared by us … we want to be more effective than we have been in the past.”
It has left some asking why it has taken Nestlé so long to start to solve the problem if it knew as it has for at least 10 years that children were involved in producing its cocoa. After the US called for legislation to bring in a ‘slave free’ labelling requirement on all cocoa products in 2001, Nestlé along with the world's other biggest chocolate manufacturers opted to self-regulate adopting the Harkin-Engel Protocol. But many, both inside and outside the industry judge the agreement as having failed to deliver.
Almost two million children worked in the cocoa industry in the west African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast in 2007/08, according to a US government-funded project carried out by Tulane University. And Nestlé’s promise came just days before the report was due to be broadcast. The FLA, whose investigators fly to the Ivory Coast in January, will receive a percentage of Nestlé’s turnover, capped at just under £200,000 per year.
A BBC correspondent visited the Ivory Coast earlier this year and found children using machetes to hack open cocoa pods to extract the beans. One boy said his father had sent him to the farm to work, and had not seen his family for three years.
Gilbert Kone Kafana, Ivory Coast's minister for labour and social affairs, said there was a "moral obligation" on chocolate companies to help rebuild the country ravaged by years of civil war.
"We need to build roads, schools, hospitals and social centres; anything that would allow Ivory Coast to progress," he told the broadcaster.
Mars has also joined aid groups to tackle the issue. But the chocolate-to-pet food group said: “ultimately, making progress in eradicating the use of the worst forms of child labour in cocoa production requires the support, co-operation and commitment of governments of cocoa producing countries, cocoa farmers and others from within the cocoa community.