Much attention is being given to the issue of labor practices on cocoa farms, and rightly so. Too many children participate in potentially hazardous farming tasks or work instead of attending school. Children have been found who were forced to work on farms. This is unacceptable in any agricultural sector, including cocoa. No child should be harmed in the process of growing or harvesting cocoa – or any other crop. Forced labor, slavery and trafficking of any person can never be condoned under any circumstances.
Accurate data about how many children are involved in hazardous activities on cocoa farms in West Africa, or who are forced to work, are difficult to obtain. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) made one of the first studies in 2002. In recent years the governments of both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have conducted surveys to assess the scope of the issue and to develop action plans to address the conditions the surveys revealed. (These reports are available on the IITA and respective government websites.) Interventions in mid-2009 by Interpol and the Ivorian police authorities demonstrate the willingness of the governments in the region to work to combat illegal trafficking of minors to work in the agricultural sector.
We believe that long-term solutions to child labor abuses will require the commitment of many people working together, including parents and communities, governments and local authorities, civil society organizations as well as industry. Claims by certain civil society organizations that “practically all” chocolate is produced from cocoa collected from farms where children are working in slavery cannot be substantiated. In our opinion, such statements do not reflect the realities of life for the estimated one to two million cocoa farmers and their families striving to earn a livelihood in West Africa under extremely challenging economic, political and social circumstances.