31 Jan 2020

A fair approach to child labor issues in sugar and cocoa farming

Anita Sheth explains an ongoing program in Belize to empower local youth and educate farmers on solutions to end the practice.

by Anita Seth, Senior Advisor, Social Compliance and Development at Fairtrade International

2020 Belize Sugar 870
Fairtrade International

Now more than ever, major food companies, legislators and nonprofit certifiers are coming together to enact change against child labour issues plaguing the global farming industry, particularly in the cocoa sector. However, the industry is still far from addressing the human rights challenges farmers and farm workers face. Fairtrade International, the original and global leader in fair trade certification, is pioneering innovative programs to address the underlying factors that perpetuate child labour. During the last five years, Fairtrade has targeted the socio-economic root causes that push farmers into relying on the two million children engaged in labour.

For the confectionery industry to make an impact on this complex issue, it is critical to focus on the lifecycle of the problem. Child labour rates can be more prevalent when families are not able to earn a living wage from their crops and youth in the region lack decent employment opportunities. Fairtrade International’s mission is to enable farmers and workers to earn a decent living, which is achieved by creating strong standards and an auditing system that checks for and prohibits child labour.

Instances of child labour

Since 2015, Fairtrade has partnered with local sugar cane farmer associations, young people and their communities in Belize to identify and respond to child labour occurring on farms, as well as to children’s insecurities in and around farming communities. This unique pilot program, called the Youth-Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation System on Child Labour (YICBMR), gets to the root of the problem by empowering local youth to identify instances of child labour and work with community leaders on solutions to prevent further occurrences.

A major learning is that child protection measures imposed from organizations outside of the local community have limited positive impact. Policies and procedures are much more effective when developed and implemented holistically by farmers, workers, communities and families themselves, because they are best suited to understand and address the sources of exploitation.

At the heart of the Belize program’s success is the active participation of children and young people, as well as that of adults in the communities who commit to identifying any risks to children’s well-being and make recommendations on how to respond to these safety issues.

Protecting children

Fairtrade International’s rights-based approach combines protecting children against harm whilst enabling their participation and development. A recent study of the program’s effectiveness showed constituents on all sides, including community members, cooperative staff, NGO and government reps, rate the program very positively as a comprehensive approach to addressing child labour, not just on the farms themselves, but also in the whole community. Fairtrade International has implemented similar programs in 12 countries, including two in West Africa on cocoa cooperatives.

This program has opened the lines of communication for farmers and communities to talk openly about child labour and should serve as a best practice for fighting the issue globally. While there is still a lot of work to be done in protecting against child labour -- particularly with the subsequent follow-up and remediation -- Fairtrade has identified the positive effects of empowering youth leaders to be a part of the solution.

Fairtrade International calls upon confectionery companies sourcing commodities such as cocoa and sugar to support producers and farmers who are leading the way with youth-inclusive, rights-based, community-driven, self-governing systems to identify and respond to child labour.

This piece first appeared on 28 January 2020 in Confectionery News is reproduced with their permission.