Tackling Child Labour in the Chocolate Industry – What Role Can Fairtrade Play?

25 marzo 2010

To see FLO's response to a new Panorama program “Chocolate – The Bitter Truth” broadcast on March 24th, click here.  For a general overview of the work we are doing to address child labour, keep reading.

As Easter approaches and sales of chocolate increase, so does concern about the ongoing problem of child labour in the cocoa industry. Recent programs in Switzerland, Germany and Denmark have taken a closer look at the cocoa industry and where our chocolate comes from. This week, a documentary called, “The Dark Side of Chocolate” premiered on Danish television on 16 March and it investigated the continued allegations of trafficking of children and child labour in the international cocoa industry. Also this week, in Germany, a current affairs program examined the use of child labor in the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire.

In light of this recent media attention, which has included some positive coverage of Fairtrade, FLO would like to take the opportunity to address the ongoing reality of child labour in the cocoa industry and explain what we in the Fairtrade movement have been doing to increase our own efforts to combat it.  

Scope of the problem
We agree that there has not been enough progress towards the eradication of child labour in the past ten years.  It is an unacceptable fact that children around the world are being employed and exploited, forced to work in abusive and dangerous conditions when they should be at school or on playgrounds. Children are bought, sold and traded within and across national borders.  Those who live in abject poverty are especially vulnerable.

  • An estimated 218 million children are involved in work around the world.1
  • 126 million work under the worst forms of child labour.2
  • More than one million children are employed in the cocoa farming sector in West Africa.3
  • Between 200,000 and 800,000 children under the age of 18 are trafficked each year in West Africa alone.4

FLO is aware and concerned about the continued vast scale of child labour and child trafficking.  We believe everyone has the responsibility to work to eradicate child labour:  governments, NGOs, UN bodies, trade unions, child welfare organizations, chocolate manufacturers and traders, farmers’ groups and consumers.  We take our own responsibility very seriously and believe there is still much to be done within Fairtrade and we are working to strengthen our system regarding this issue.

Fairtrade helps to detect problems, and take action on them
The Fairtrade standards for producer organizations prohibit child labour – work that is hazardous, exploitive or that undermines a child’s education or its emotional and physical health.  We follow the ILO Conventions, including Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and our audits check compliance against this.  Qualified auditors inspect Fairtrade producer organizations on a regular basis to monitor for child labour.

In the past year, a small number of suspected cases of the worst forms of child labour were found during Fairtrade audits.  We reported these to the relevant child protection authorities, then followed up to ensure the wellbeing of the impacted child(ren). FLO’s first and utmost concern is the safety and well-being of individual children.

In cases of unconditional worst forms of child labour, Fairtrade also suspends or decertifies the Fairtrade producer organization where these worst forms of labour are found until protective and corrective measures are put in place.  Producer organizations must set up internal systems to identify and eliminate child labour within their own communities.  Fairtrade works with producer organizations to address issues on a progressive basis rather than simply de-certifying them as a first response to findings of non-conformities. The goal is to assist in solving the problem instead of imposing harsh punitive measures that push farmers into deeper poverty, and could put even more children at risk.

Beyond audits to community support programs
Whilst auditing can help identify and uncover cases of child labour, auditors cannot be on every small farm every minute of every day of every year. Instead, Fairtrade believes we must support local communities to help them tackle child labour themselves. Through Fairtrade, farmers groups are able to earn additional Premium of $150/tonne that they can use to improve their business and build community programs, from awareness-raising on issues of child labour to helping increase the availability and quality of local schooling. Paying farmers a fairer price for their cocoa is crucial for moving away from a reliance on child labour in the long term.

Child labour is understood in the Fairtrade system not only as problems faced by individual children and their families, but also as problems perpetuated by poverty and unfair terms of trade. That’s why the focus of Fairtrade is to strengthen the position of farmers and workers in international supply chains, help them to become organized within their communities as well as to earn a better deal from the sale of their produce.
Fairtrade is committed to doing more
Over the last year we have:

  • sharpened our audit tools
  • improved our producer support on this issue
  • started a child labour task force  
  • published child labour position paper
  • provided input for producer organizations on developing of an Internal Control System, so that they can better track the activity of their members
  • developed a child protection policy and procedures which is being implemented
  • engaged local NGOs for partnerships on joint projects
  • provided extra visits to train and support producers
  • commenced training on child labour and child protection in FLO and FLO-CERT

United effort to eradicate child labour
Fairtrade is doing its part to alleviate poverty and prevent child labour through a strategy that enables producers to empower themselves, long term trade relations and partner engagement. Our plan of action for the future now includes:

  • Building more training, tools and partnerships with expert organizations
  • Improving our ongoing on-site support to cooperatives and their members, awareness raising
  • Support in building partnerships between coops and experts and NGOs
  • Training Fairtrade local liaison officers on child labour and child protection
  • Scaling up our programme of visits to Ivory Coast for child labor and child protection training at all Fairtrade coops
  • Organizing multi-stakeholder discussion to inform FLO future direction and policy
  • Publishing a new and improved child labour policy by the Summer of 2010
  • FLO-Cert training for auditors and staff

What does Fairtrade guarantee?
At present, no one person or system can provide a 100% guarantee that chocolate is free of child labour. What the Fairtrade system guarantees is that if we find breaches of our standards, we will take immediate action. We will act to protect children. We will act to prevent cocoa from farms proved to be using child labour from entering the Fairtrade system. And we will act to support farming communities in tackling problems so that they can continue to trade their way out of poverty.

Fairtrade is committed to combating child labour.

  • Fairtrade guarantees standards for producer prohibiting child labor.  
  • Fairtrade guarantees a rigorous certification and audit system designed to detect cases of child labour
  • Fairtrade guarantees that we act immediately when cases are found to protect the children involved and secure their safety.
  • Fairtrade guarantees that farmers receive additional premiums that they can use to improve life in their own communities, and to develop their own programs

We in FLO invite all companies, NGOs and individuals to work with us to combat child labour and  join us in projects for awareness raising, training and education. Please contact us in FLO to discuss further.

Tuulia Syvaenen, COO, t.syvaenen@fairtrade.net

Laura Zonka, Media Manager, l.zonka@fairtrade.net



Rob Cameron, FLO CEO:

“It is a globally shaming that children around the world continue to be exploited in dangerous and abusive work conditions.  In this day and age and with such widespread knowledge of the issue, it is simply unacceptable.  We at Fairtrade recognize the need to continually strengthen our system to combat child labour and protect vulnerable children.

“Over the past year we have implemented new tools and procedures to help us detect and prevent child labour in the Fairtrade system.  We have further improvements planned.  Meanwhile, Fairtrade producers continue to invest the benefits of Fairtrade in creating a better future for their children via countless community and business development projects, including many directly oriented to preventing child labour.  We must all – governments, NGOs, child welfare organizations, the chocolate industry, farmers’ groups and consumers – work together to fulfill our duty: to eliminate child labour.”

Esther Guluma, former UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa and current FLO Board Member:

“Children work for many reasons, yet the most important among them is extreme poverty, which creates the need for children to contribute to the family economy. My seventeen years with UNICEF, including as UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, provided me with ample evidence that poverty is indeed the underlying cause, resulting in a large number of children being vulnerable to abuse.  A lot needs to be done by Governments to tackle the issue, including access to education and enforcement of legislation.  Fairtrade further assists these actions through social programmes which strengthen the capacity of families and communities and ensure that farmers receive adequate income. 

“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous.  UNICEF has taken a lead in ensuring that these rights are respected and has always supported positive approaches to changing labour practices, including approaches applied by Fairtrade.  When tackling issues of child labour found in Fairtrade certified farms, I believe Fairtrade will continue to cooperate with UNICEF and other organisations that have expertise on social development and child rights.

“The bottom line for me is the recognition that Fairtrade fights poverty.  In the long run, it is this effort, in partnership with others, which will naturally lead to the elimination of child labour.”

Further reading

Child Labout Position Paper
Fact Sheet on Child Labour
Standards for small-scale producers
Producer standards for hired labour

1 United Nations
2 United Nations
3 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture 2002
4 International Labor Organization ILO 2007

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