Listening to Children: a critical tool in tackling child labour

12 July 2012

The recent Fair Labor Association report on Nestle supply chains in the Ivorian cocoa sector is a sobering testimony to the realities surrounding the issues of child labour and exploitation in commodity production.

Nestle must be applauded for taking the historical step of having its procurement system completely traced and assessed for compliance on labour requirements, amongst other issues. It is through this kind of detailed and in-depth approach that we can develop a greater understanding of the complex causal factors of child labour, and thereby take the right steps to address them.

At Fairtrade International, we are employing a variety of methods, from our audit process to focus groups, to obtain better data and insights on child labour in the West African cocoa sector. Ensuring that children’s own voices are heard is central to Fairtrade developing solutions that do not inadvertently place affected children in potentially worse situations. In 2011, we partnered with international child rights NGOs to conduct child-centred focus groups with school going children in cocoa-growing areas in both Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana.

Our interest was to learn from these children about their education, work, future aspirations and the impact of Fairtrade on their lives – essential input as Fairtrade International further develops and implements our proactive, child-inclusive, community-based approach to increasing the wellbeing of girls and boys and young people in cocoa-growing communities. In particular, we wanted to understand from school children what alternatives are available to working children, and to hear from them about issues related to protection and wellbeing.

Our research indicated that some school going children were still engaged in child labour in cocoa-growing areas. In particular they reported that they face issues with regard to the quality and safety of their education; including affordability of school and school supplies, poor teaching methods and teacher retention. According to these children, school is not always a safe place for them. A majority of children in the focus group also noted that they were not interested in cocoa as a sustainable livelihood as they believed the work was hard and the returns were low. They were more interested in jobs in urban areas. This of course should be of concern to any business relying on long-term sustainability of cocoa.

Fairtrade standards are clear about prohibition of the worst forms of child labour. Our policies and procedures also seek to ensure that remediation of children removed from child labour ensures their prolonged safety and that new children do not replace those removed. In the months ahead, we will continue to work with partners, including child rights NGOs, companies, and other stakeholders, to support the building of child-centred, community-based monitoring and remediation systems on child labour, including child protection, in the cocoa areas of Cote d’Ivoire where we operate. 

Fairtrade believes that whilst our product-based certification, including fairer terms of trade, is a valuable tool in the fight against child labour, it is equally critical for producer organizations and their members to go beyond reliance on pure audits and certification to building their own community-led approaches.

We work in areas where there is a known child labour risk, because this is often where our work is most needed. Thus producer organizations with such known risk must operate community-based internal monitoring and remediation systems to be able to address child labour issues from within their communities on an on-going and regular basis. Furthermore, in including a Business and Development Plan in our Fairtrade Generic Standards for Small Producers, applicable to cocoa producers, we have been building capacity and encouraging West African cocoa producers to select the increased wellbeing being of children and young people in their communities as a development goal. This is in addition to compliance with Fairtrade producer standards that have strict prohibitions against child labour.

No certification system or single actor can guarantee the elimination of child labour. However, what we can guarantee is that if children are detected in child labour, Fairtrade will act to protect them and their impacted communities. Through our growing partnerships with child rights NGOs and relevant national child protection agencies, we aim to ensure that children themselves and impacted communities are at the forefront of tackling the issue, so that girls and boys at risk are provided with appropriate and safe alternatives.

For further information please contact: Caroline Hickson, Director of Communications (c.hickson @fairtrade.net) or Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor, Social Compliance and Development (a.sheth @fairtrade.net)

 
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