FLO Response to: “Chocolate – The Bitter Truth”

25 March 2010

A one-hour Panorama program “Chocolate – The Bitter Truth” was broadcast on BBC 1 on March 24th. The latest among a number of recent reports in various countries on child labour in the cocoa industry, the undercover investigation found children working under the worst forms of child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa, including young children working long hours and trafficked children.

Panorama interviewed Fairtrade farmers as part of its story. The journalists visited Fairtrade certified farms in Ghana belonging to Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade cooperative which had been suspended by FLO-CERT (the certification body for Fairtrade). The program linked the suspension to breaches of the FLO Standards on child labour. The program also alleges it witnessed incidences of child labour on Fairtrade certified farms belonging to Kavokiva in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

Fairtrade takes the issue of child labour very seriously. With regards to Panorama’s specific allegations, FLO can confirm that we will continue to put the safety and well-being of vulnerable children as our top priority and any new information will be carefully followed up. Over the past year, the Fairtrade system has been scaling up our approach to tackling child labour including sharpening our audit tools, increasing our use of unannounced audits, conducting internal training, establishing a Child Labour Task Force, building up our partnerships with other organizations working to prevent child labour and protect children, and implementing new child protection procedures for our own operations. For a full overview of the work we are doing to eliminate child labour and protect children from its worst forms, please click here.

In its right to reply letter to the BBC preceding the Panorama broadcast, the Fairtrade Foundation UK outlined the concrete steps that Fairtrade has already been taking to address the issue of child labour in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. In fall 2009, FLO-CERT had conducted unannounced audits at cooperatives in these countries because some of the Fairtrade cocoa farms are located in regions known as high-risk for child labour. Following the unannounced audit, FLO-CERT suspended Kuapa Kokoo due to breaches of the Fairtrade standards. Immediate action was taken to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all individuals involved. Kuapa Kokoo established a task force to respond to the findings of the Fairtrade audit and developed a comprehensive new Internal Control System designed to track the activity of their members more proactively and with more precision. This internal system improves the cooperative’s ability to identify and combat child labour within its communities. As a result, FLO-CERT lifted the suspension in January. Kavokiva passed the unannounced audit. FLO-CERT will continue to monitor these cooperatives closely over the next year with frequent unannounced audits. In particular, it is following up on specific child labour allegations made by Panorama.

In their own letters to the BBC, Kuapa Kokoo and Kavokiva explained that they have very active programs to address child labour and its underlying causes. This includes awareness-raising among farmers about the importance of children’s education and the legal conditions under which children are allowed to work. Both cooperatives explain that they already had initiatives on child labour but they have been able to build on this work since being part of the Fairtrade system.  For Kuapa Kokoo's description of their policies and systems to tackle the issue of child labour in their communities, click here.

While FLO understands the motivations that would lead to avoiding chocolate sourced with even the smallest risk of a child being exploited, Fairtrade has chosen to engage in cocoa-growing regions with a known risk of child labour. We believe that areas where producers struggle against high levels of poverty and lack of stability are exactly where the benefits of Fairtrade are needed the most. We will therefore continue our work in these regions, all the while strengthening our tools and procedures and working closely with partners to eliminate child labour.

We should not forget that child labour is symptomatic of deep poverty in some of the most challenged countries in the world. Fairtrade guarantees a Premium for producers above the world price of commodities like cocoa, supporting investment by producers in education, health, housing and other key social and environmental improvements. This focus on development and producer empowerment makes Fairtrade well-placed to support farmers in adopting measures that will help eradicate child labour in the cocoa industry.  For a description of the positive impacts achieved through Fairtrade for Kuapa Kokoo click here, and Kavokiva click here.

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