According to a study by the US government, children who do dangerous work have risen to become the world’s leading coca producers.
The use of child labor on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast has increased over the past decade, despite industry pledges to reduce it, scientists said Monday, largely in support of earlier findings that have been questioned by both states.
According to the US government-funded study, the prevalence of children doing dangerous jobs, including the use of sharp tools, has also increased at the world’s two leading cocoa producers.
The numbers were higher than in 2010, when companies like Mars, Hershey, Nestle and Cargill agreed to reduce the worst forms of child labor in Ghana and the Ivory Coast cocoa sectors by 70 percent by 2020.
The two West African countries, which together produce about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa, had both questioned the methodology used in an earlier version of the report, produced by researchers at the University of Chicago and published by Reuters news agency in April .
Ghana questioned the data again in the new report released Monday after the U.S. Department of Labor hired a group of independent experts to conduct a review.
Mars said in a statement that it has allocated $ 1 billion to a responsible sourcing strategy and called for legislation to address the root causes of child labor on West African cocoa farms.
Hershey and Nestle referred Reuters to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) industry group. Cargill did not respond to a request for comment.
In Monday’s report, the estimate of the number of children currently working in cocoa production in both countries was reduced from more than two million in the April study to 1.56 million as the weighting of the data had changed. There were no comparative sums from 10 years earlier.
“Complexity and size”
However, the proportion of children from agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas who do child labor in the cocoa sector in Ivory Coast and Ghana rose from 31 percent in 2008/09 to 45 percent in 2018/19.
The corresponding values for dangerous work have increased from 30 percent to 43 percent.
“Despite efforts by governments, industry and other key players in the fight against child labor and dangerous child labor over the past 10 years, the prevalence rates for child labor and dangerous child labor have not declined,” the report said.
She added that child labor rates have stabilized since the last survey in 2013/14 and that school attendance in cocoa-growing areas has increased despite rising cocoa production.
Children from cocoa fields come to a police station to be checked during an operation to rescue children from child traffickers in Aboisso, Ivory Coast [File: Luc Gnago/Reuters]WCF President Richard Scobey said the report shows that child labor remains an ongoing challenge, but that government and corporate programs to reduce it made a difference.
“Child labor reduction targets were set without fully understanding the complexities and scale of a challenge strongly linked to poverty in rural Africa, and cocoa production was not expected to have increased significantly over the past decade” he added in a statement.
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an industry and civil society backed foundation, said what it called past sampling errors made it difficult to make accurate comparisons over time.
Ghana’s government was quoted in Monday’s report questioning the reliability of numbers, which showed a decrease in the number of child laborers from April’s estimate while maintaining a similar prevalence rate.
“This raises eyebrows at the reliability of the results for meaningful policy formulation and implementation,” said Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Industrial Relations.
Ivory Coast welcomed the revised results and both countries reiterated their commitment to eliminating child labor in cocoa farming.
US lawmakers have criticized the industry and US customs officials asked cocoa traders earlier this year to report where and when they encounter child labor in their supply chains.