Mondelēz International has been working to solve the issue of child labor for over a decade. As the industry leader, it is our responsibility to identify and address child labor in our own supply chain, and also to shine a spotlight on the issue so other companies can build on all we have learned to help eliminate child labor in all cocoa-growing communities. We are a member of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), the leading organization to promote child protection in cocoa growing communities and in 2013 we published our Cocoa Life Child Labor guidance document developed together with Anti-Slavery International. As part of our ongoing commitment, we have partnered with Embode, an independent human-rights consultancy, to analyze the environment and national child protection infrastructure and responses in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia and identify additional measures we can take in our efforts to help eliminate child labor. Aarti Kapoor, managing director of Embode, gives her thoughts on this issue:
In our work to support Mondelēz International’s response to child labor and child slavery, we at Embode have been busy gathering and analyzing research and information shared by experts and stakeholders across the world. Given our first focus is on Côte d’Ivoire, my team and I also recently visited the country and engaged with leaders, families and children in cocoa-farming communities as well as with government, corporate and NGO stakeholders. Suffice to say, I found it to be an incredibly valuable and insightful experience for the purposes of understanding our work.
What is child labor?
Children’s work can be seen as a broad spectrum of activities and conditions. Acceptable children’s work is on one side, and includes children partaking in light work and chores which are neither harmful, nor interfere with their enjoyment of other rights, such as their schooling. Child labor covers any type of children’s work which is undesirable due to its negative impact on the child, whether physical or mental. This might be because it interferes with their school-work or their time to play or because they are below the minimum legal age of employment. The ‘worst forms of child labor’, as articulated by ILO Convention No.182, includes child slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation, engagement in armed conflict or the production or trafficking of drugs. In fact, the worst forms of child labor include any work which is illicit and is harmful to a child’s health, safety and morals.
How does child labor exist in Côte d’Ivoire?
Children’s work and child labor, in its different forms, are prevalent in Côte d’Ivoire, and is not limited to the cocoa sector. This is due to a complex range of enablers and push-factors; from the relative poverty of farmers, to the lack of national infrastructure, such as schools and healthcare, which leaves children vulnerable to risks. There are also socio-cultural conditions that influence trends of child labor. For example, cocoa farmers spoke to us about how they need to rely on their children to help them and their wish to educate their children about cocoa cultivation so that they can take over their farms when they are older. Notwithstanding children working within their households, there are also more egregious forms of child labor. Child trafficking and child slavery is an ongoing concern in Côte d’Ivoire, and although the enablers are similar, the key push-factor is the exploitative intent of some farmers. Such exploiters take advantage of vulnerable children who often migrate from other parts of the country or across the border. Cases are difficult to detect and often remain hidden due to a lack of adequate referral and law enforcement mechanisms.
Children at the heart of their communities.
What the recent trip to Côte d’Ivoire highlighted to me, with even greater clarity, is that despite our best intentions, we cannot tackle child labor through focusing on child labor alone. Child labor does not exist in a vacuum. It occurs through the interaction of complex conditions and factors over time, of which I have only been able to get but a glimpse. Responding to child labor in cocoa, as if it is unconnected or unrelated to anything else will only result in undermining those very efforts. If it takes a village to raise a child, then we must step back and see children at the heart of their families and communities.
To take a child-centered approach, we need to look at this issue from the perspective of the child. Would it make a difference to a child whether he is working in a cocoa farm or a cotton plantation? Is it of more or less concern to us whether a child is selling fruit on the street or whether she is watering cocoa trees? In order to put children at the heart of our efforts against child labor in cocoa, we must be directed by a focus on the holistic well-being of the child. Every child has the right to grow up in an environment safe from harm, and with access to care and education. Aiming for anything less will not eradicate child labor.
If child labor, in its different forms, is so prevalent in the cocoa sector, it is indicative of a broader and endemic problem. Indeed, Côte d’Ivoire’s children do not only need protection from exploitative work in cocoa, but also from exploitation in other sectors and from other forms of abuse and violence (as in every other country). Children also need a nurturing environment in which to grow, with access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation. Their parents and communities need access to adequate livelihoods, security, social equality and political stability.
This is why responding to child labor in Côte d’Ivoire, cannot simply be about raising awareness of communities and taking a compliance-driven approach. Stakeholders working against child labor need to meet communities halfway, by talking and listening to them as partners, and by supporting their genuine desire to improve the well-being of their children. We also all need to work closely with government and other actors to support the development of infrastructure. This is not only about enabling better access to schools, but also better access to child protection systems, which provide children with social services, support and care and access to justice for the harm they may suffer. In fact, all stakeholders need to be partners in development.
This is why Cocoa Life’s framework in taking shared accountability in developing communities brings much needed hope, focus and resources to the issue. I fully recognize the opportunity Cocoa Life is harnessing to make a real difference to many cocoa-farming communities. At Embode, we are thrilled to be partners with Mondelēz in our common endeavor to keep children safe and to help them thrive.
Download the new publication: Cocoa Life Child Labor interventions July 2015 update here.