It has been nearly three years since Hershey first announced their goal of 100% “certified” cocoa by 2020 in response to consumer pressure and recognition that labor abuses, including human trafficking and child labor, are rampant in the cocoa industry of West Africa. Hershey claims to be ahead of its targets toward this goal.
Hershey is not the only company working on this issue. Hershey along with Mars, Cargill, Nestle, and others, are all members of the International Cocoa Initiative, which holds a vision of cocoa-growing communities where “children’s rights are respected and protected, and where child labour has been eliminated.”
We have always maintained that the commitment by Hershey was too vague and weak to make a real difference and this has been confirmed by a recent Tulane University survey of child labor in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Despite an increase of company claims of addressing child labor, the study found that the number of children working in the cocoa industry has increased. More than 2 million children are doing hazardous work in this industry.
International Labor Rights Forum issued a report last December on the cocoa sector that recommended more transparency in supply chains and also identified low prices paid to farmers as the root cause of labor abuses, including child labor.
Fairtrade International, the largest fair trade certifier globally, agrees that farmers need a livable income. Part of the goal of their certification is to ensure fair prices for farmers and living wages for workers. Their recommendations go even further. In response to the Tulane report, Fairtrade International released a statement describing their initiatives centered on empowering communities to find solutions. Through this method, they have identified, for example, the need for safer schools if children are expected to attend, and the need to train youth leaders who understand the issues and can connect with children and adults.
This finally seems to be on the right track. Corporations, even acting in good faith, have failed to stop child labor in the cocoa industry. It is time to let communities, including farmers groups and youth leaders, to set the agenda for changing the industry. Farmers need to set global prices for cocoa that allow them to grow in environmentally and socially sustainable ways. Communities in need of safer schools should have that supported by governments and global buyers.
We should continue to pressure corporations to be more accountable for their supply chains, but rather than allowing them to choose which “solutions” to support, it is clear we need to empower cocoa-growing communities to provide the solutions and pressure companies to support these.