Dario Soto Abril, CEO Fairtrade International, explains why fair trade must become the norm rather than the exception to tackle child labour in West African cocoa production.

Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire together produce about 60% of the world’s cocoa supply each year. However, they do so with reliance on child labour. This is the harsh reality of the cocoa industry – and a stark reminder of the reality Fairtrade faces in our efforts to change the way the world does business.

It is estimated that more than 1.48 million children are engaged in hazardous child labour in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Fairtrade estimates that this number is likely higher, as we consider child labour through the lens of minimum age, hazardous labour and unconditional child labour. Unfortunately, these numbers do not come as a surprise to Fairtrade. Since 2009, we have been working diligently to tackle this problem – and not only in the cocoa industry.

What we know, without a doubt, is that there’s no single reason for child labour use in this cocoa sector; instead, there are many complex and interdependent causes. Poverty, low wages, labour shortages, poor working conditions, weak governmental involvement, lack of impactful educational opportunities, unsafe schools, exploitation and discrimination, political unrest and conflict – and now the effects of COVID-19, as well – all contribute to the use of child labour in the West African production of cocoa.

Poverty and discrimination remain formidable forces in pushing children into the workforce and unsafe environments. When farmers are trapped in poverty, they can’t afford to invest in more efficient methods to improve their income and, as such, resort to the cheapest forms of child labour. Also, when children’s rights are not respected, dependence on their labour can increase.

We say the guaranteed Fairtrade Premium is important, so that producer organizations can choose to implement the support their communities need, including building schools, to make it easier and safer for children to receive a quality education.

In 2019, we raised both the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium by 20% to move cocoa producers closer to a living income.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that voluntary solutions are not enough. It must become a collective effort of all actors. Producers and their communities are already living in poverty. It is simply not realistic – or fair – to expect producers to bear the costs of implementing child labour monitoring and remediation systems when they don’t make enough to cover their basic needs. So, who’s going to pay to end child labour? Shared accountability is the only way to end child labour in cocoa production. Voluntary certifications have a critical role to play in raising the bar on expectations; designing and implementing frameworks for commercial partners’ and producers’ accountability, complementing legal requirements; and in providing much-needed on the ground support.
Consumers must demand accountability from chocolate brands, retailers, and human and environmental rights due diligence regulation from their governments. They must buy products aligned with their values: providing producers with stable income that allows them the ability to plan for their futures and decide how best to invest in their communities and farms.
It must not take another 20 years to turn fair trade from the exception to the norm.

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