VOICE response to latest NORC research on child labour in the cocoa sector

Monday, 23 November 2020

Despite two decades of efforts, the cocoa sector has still not been able to significantly reduce – let alone eliminate – child labour on West African cocoa farms. According to a new report by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC), 1.5 million children are working in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. 95% of the child labourers are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, such as working with dangerous tools or harmful pesticides.

The main reason why the problem of child labour has not been solved is simple; it didn’t have to be eliminated. The efforts of the past two decades were entirely voluntary. Companies could engage with the problem in any manner they saw fit, and there have been exactly zero consequences for failing to meet the parade of promises made by the cocoa industry in the past decade.

The report shows that some forms of child labour are even getting worse. The strong increase of children using pesticides is an especially grave cause for concern. More than forty percent of children interviewed reported feeling very tired or even exhausted because of child labour. A third of children were in very bad pain, a quarter felt very sick, and one in ten children had to receive treatment at a medical centre. All in all, these figures are shocking, and urgent efforts must be undertaken to safeguard children from these hazards to their health. 

A companion study on the efficacy of industry interventions to reduce child labour – commissioned by the cocoa and chocolate industry – was simultaneously released. It shows that when industry does choose to invest time and effort in child labour reduction approaches, progress can be made. Though it raises the question why these investments were not made much earlier and on a larger scale, the VOICE Network welcomes the intention of several multinational cocoa and chocolate companies to roll out these programmes to all the cocoa farmers they source from. We call on all other companies to follow suit immediately. 

However, such programs reduce child labour only by roughly 30%. The main cause of child labour is poverty, and child labour will persist as long as the cocoa and chocolate industry is not serious about ensuring a living income to all cocoa farming families around the world.

Other drivers of child labour, including a lack of healthcare and education, require efforts by local governments who are responsible for the infrastructure needed for childcare and education. The VOICE Network calls on all cocoa-producing governments, but especially the Ghanaian and Ivorian governments, to dramatically improve and expand efforts to provide education and other vital services to children, and crack down on child labor and other abuses in cocoa. There is also an increasing need for clarity and ownership of the concept of child labour and child work, which should be informed by national inclusive and deliberative processes. This should be anchored in existing national legislation, which is based on the ILO Core Conventions and takes into account the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What is needed now are mandatory due diligence regulations that cover both human rights and environmental harms, as well as an urgent plan to safeguard children from exposure to pesticides, a full roll out of child labour monitoring and remediation systems to all cocoa sourcing from West Africa, coordinated national agricultural and rural development policies and investments in infrastructure. Lastly, these must be coupled with a strong income increase to ensure cocoa farming households reach a living income, part of which must include payments of higher cocoa prices at ‘farm-gate’.

2020 Cocoa Barometer Launch Webinar; December 1st 16:00 CET

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

2020 Cocoa Barometer Launch Webinar
December 1st 2020 16:00 – 17:30 CET

The Cocoa Barometer Consortium invites you to the launch of the 2020 Cocoa Barometer.

This sector-defining publication, outlining the state of sustainability of the cocoa sector, provides an overview of the current sustainability developments in cocoa and chocolate, and highlights critical issues that are not receiving sufficient attention.

During the launch event, you can join the debate with the authors of the report, representatives of West-African civil society, the cocoa industry, and the European Union.

There will be ample opportunity for questions and answers. 

Please register for this event here.

There will be simultaneous translation from English into French.

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With financial support from 

New joint paper: key elements for an agreement between the EU and cocoa producing countries.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

The European Commission is exploring bilateral agreements with the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to ensure sustainability in the cocoa sector, and in particular to tackle deforestation, farmer poverty and child labour. 

The aim of these agreements should be to ensure a transition towards sustainable cocoa production that provides farmers with a living income, while ensuring that EU cocoa consumption does not contribute to child labour and deforestation. As the EU imports most of the cocoa coming from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and many of the cocoa companies have major operations in the EU, such an agreement could be very effective. 

Thirteen European, Ghanaian and Ivorian organisations have come together to launch a discussion paper.

It outlines our vision for a new partnership agreement between the European Union and the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to tackle deforestation, poverty and social issues in the cocoa sector.It explores what an agreement should look like, how it should be negotiated, who should be involved, and how it could work with expected new EU laws to address imported deforestation and human rights abuses.  

We developed the paper over six months of extensive discussions with NGOs in the EU, in Ghana and in Côte d’Ivoire. The paper does not present a final position, but outlines the issues that negotiations in Brussels, Accra and Abidjan should consider.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Cocoa Barometer Consortium releases consultation paper on agroforestry in the cocoa sector

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Cocoa Barometer Consortium is pleased to launch our latest consultation paper, on agroforestry in the cocoa sector. 

Cocoa agroforestry systems can bring a wide range of ecological benefits; biodiversity conservation of flora and fauna, carbon sequestration, preserving and strengthening soil moisture and fertility, contributing to pest control, and microclimatic control such as stimulating rainfall, and many other benefits.

However, a large gap separates the current reality of agroforestry in the cocoa sector from its potential, and agroforestry should not replace forest areas, nor can simplified agroforestry be a substitute for more diverse agroforestry systems.

This paper highlights shortcomings in current industry and government approaches to agroforestry in cocoa. It also suggests a way forward to ensure that cocoa agroforestry delivers on its promise of environmental sustainability while contributing to farmers’ livelihoods. And it proposes basic parameters of integrated agroforestry cocoa standards on both farm and landscape scale and sets forward recommendations for all actors in the supply chain.

The paper is available here for online viewing, here for a pdf version, and here for a print friendly version.

COVID-19 response for Cocoa Farmers

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The VOICE Network and its members are deeply concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on cocoa farming households, a group already in a vulnerable position. Our immediate concern is for the health and wellbeing of members of cocoa farming households. We are equally concerned about the direct economic impact this global crisis will have on families, who live already well below a living income. During the 2016 price crash, the cocoa and chocolate industry made strong profits while farmers and producing governments lost billions of dollars. Cocoa and chocolate companies did virtually nothing then to support their farmers. This cannot happen again.

Today, we release a Call to Action to the cocoa and chocolate industry to do everything within their means to help protect their cocoa farmers. We offer four key considerations from the chocolate and cocoa industry which play into their role and responsibility, and mirrors responses we see in their employee care in consuming countries.

  1. Cease all non-essential farm visits
  2. Support communication to farming communities on health messaging
  3. Use existing supply chain mechanisms for provisioning farming communities
  4. Set up an emergency relief fund commensurate to the challenge

Our full paper can be read here.

Cocoa Barometer Consortium releases position paper on necessary farm gate prices for a living income in West African cocoa.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Currently almost no cocoa farmers in the main cocoa production countries in West Africa are earning a living income. Without a living income for cocoa farmers, cocoa will never be sustainable. If a farmer must choose between feeding his family, and not cutting down his old growth trees, it isn’t a choice. Other challenges facing the sector – such as deforestation and child labour – will be impossible to tackle if farmers still live in poverty.

It should be abundantly clear that living income is the starting point of a conversation on farmer income, not a finish line. Those people reading this paper would not be satisfied with earning just a living income. Why should a cocoa farmer? Every farmer should be able to earn at least a living income, but preferably a lot more.

Several initiatives in the past year have started to communicate about desired cocoa price levels for farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. The situation is not transparent, as each approach has a different methodology to calculate a living income and a different way to transfer additional money.

We believe, however, that these living income price calculations so far have erred significantly on the low side. In a paper released today by the Cocoa Barometer Consortium, we explain why we think current living income reference prices are too low, and why farm gate prices for farmers should be higher still.

Read the full paper here.

Cocoa companies call for human rights and environmental due diligence requirements

Monday, 2 December 2019

Update: since the original publication of this call for an EU Due Diligence requirement, various cocoa and chocolate companies have joined this coalition. In addition to the orginal industry signatories of Barry Callebaut, Mars Wrigley and Mondelez, we can add Nestlé, Tony Chocolonely, Unilever and Ferrero. An updated version of the document can be found here.

We, a group of companies (Barry Callebaut AG, Mars Wrigley and Mondelēz International), The VOICE Network*, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, call on the European Union, by far the largest importer and consumer of cocoa in the world, to strengthen human rights and environmental due diligence requirements of companies in global cocoa supply chains, aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

We strongly believe that we all need to take action together to effectively address some of the systemic human rights and environmental challenges in the cocoa supply chain. National governments must enforce and strengthen their own labour, child protection and environmental laws, and companies have a responsibility to conduct due diligence to identify risk, jointly evaluate remediation and take action which is proportionate to their exposure to the human rights and environmental risk.

Therefore, we think an EU-wide approach to due diligence will benefit all actors in the supply chain in terms of a clear and consistent set of rules and common intent.

The EU should:

  • Aim to negotiate bilateral agreements with cocoa origin governments to create the frameworks necessary to achieve this aim and provide financial and technical support to those governments to do so.
  • Establish a regulatory and policy framework within the EU to ensure that companies conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in their supply chains.  This will help encourage sustainable cocoa production, support consumer trust and help sustain market demand for cocoa from West Africa over the long term.

Find our Joint Position Statement outlining the details of our call to action here. We are looking forward to working with relevant authorities, the rest of the industry and various stakeholders to discuss what is proposed. We invite others to endorse our Joint Position Statement.

Media enquiries should be addressed to: antonie@voicenetwork.cc

* The VOICE Network is an association of NGOs and trade unions, functioning as a watchdog and catalyst for a reformed cocoa sector. Its members are ABVV/FGTB-HorvalBe Slavery Free (formerly Stop The Traffik)EFFAT (observer), FERNFNVGreen AmericaInkota NetzwerkInternational Labor Rights ForumMighty EarthOxfam NovibOxfam WereldwinkelsPublic Eye (observer), Solidaridad, and Südwind Institut.

VOICE Response to West African Cocoa Floor Price

Thursday, 5 September 2019

The announcement that the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments will raise the floor price for cocoa farmers, as well as levy an extra fee to cocoa buyers, is an important and necessary step in order to make the cocoa sector more sustainable and should be supported by the cocoa industry. The VOICE network welcomes this historic initiative by the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to improve the income situation for farmers, although questions remain on its implementation.

Read our full response here.

Vacancy: we are looking for a coordinator!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

With a growth in members and an increase in activities, we are now looking to strengthen the coordination of our network. With this new position, we are looking for someone who can help steering the network, with a focus on planning, monitoring, administration and logistics.

Read the vacancy here. Deadline for submissions is August 21st.

Position paper on certification

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The past months have seen a lot of developments around certification in the cocoa sector – such as the release of the new ISO standard, Fairtrade’s revised Minimum Price and Living Income Reference Price, and a consultation on the first draft of the new merged Rainforest/UTZ  standard. We believe that it is time for civil society to take stock of where we are.

To this purpose we are pleased to share a short position paper on the current state of certification. Of particular concern to us is the danger of a race to the bottom on pricing, and we call strongly on especially the Rainforest Alliance to put in place minimum pricing and premium systems. Increasing market share by paying the farmer less should not be a strategy for any sustainability standard.

In this position paper, we look at the strengths and shortcomings of voluntary standards, and argue that in order to achieve true sustainability there must be mandatory due diligence regulations, creating a level playing field for all.