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Chocolate companies must do more about child labour in Ivory Coast

A new independent report from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) has found “serious violations” of company codes of practice with the use of child labour in the supply of cocoa from the Ivory Coast.

Commissioned by the international food giant Nestle, the authors of the report looked into the Nestle supply chain in the Ivory Coast. They traced the journey of the cocoa beans back from the primary suppliers to the small farmers producing the crop. While the large suppliers were being checked and audited, small producers further down the chain were not being assessed. In mapping exactly where the cocoa beans were coming from, the FLA found that on many cocoa farms, children were being used to harvest the cocoa pods, often working long hours without pay. The report also concluded that many child labourers were sustaining serious injuries from the work, including being cut by the machetes used to slice the pods from the trees. 

In 2010, Ivory Coast provided around a third of the world’s cocoa beans (according to data from the Food & Agriculture Organisation). The use of children in its cocoa industry has long been known about. After pressure from the US Congress, the major chocolate companies signed an agreement to end child labour in 2001. But since that time, few checks have been made on where cocoa is sourced in Ivory Coast, particularly since such checks often involve travel to remote regions. 

In response to a new article on the issue, the Executive Vice-President for Operations at Nestle told the BBC “the use of child labour in our cocoa supply chain goes against everything we stand for” and further asserted that “tackling child labour is a top priority for our company”. With stability returning to Ivory Coast after the recent civil war and unrest, the company also indicated that it would be expecting greater assistance from the new government to address the problem. The Ivory Coast government takes a high percentage of the profits made on exported cocoa beans. Very little of the sale price reaches down to the small holders who produce the crop. This is why many farmers rely on women and children to help with the harvests, arguing that cheap or free labour is the only way they can make a living from their crop.

With the growing popularity of FairTrade products in Great Britain, Nestle UK decided two years ago to begin sourcing chocolate for the flagship KitKat bar from a FairTrade-certified cooperative in Ivory Coast. This guarantees the farmers from Kavokiva a guaranteed minimum price for their cocoa or the world market price (whichever is higher) plus a Fairtrade premium of 150 US dollars per tonne. The extra premium is used for business or social development products. According to one of the Kavokiva farmers, who spoke to ’The Press’ in York on a visit to the UK in January, the Fairtrade agreement has already made a huge difference to his village, where a school has been built. As well as improvements to education for youngsters, the extra money is also going to supplies of clean water and improvements in healthcare. With such clear benefits to the lives of poor farming communities, Nestle UK's scheme in Kavokiva shows one way things can be made better.

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