LONDON– Famous chocolate companies such as Nestlé, Hershey’s and Mars have been selling products inflicted with child labour during its production process, according to a study conducted by ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.
“At a time when the consumption of various chocolate products are increasing worldwide, the famous chocolate companies are importing cocoa fruits from farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where children aged between 5 and 14 are employed. They are exposed to harsh conditions that threaten their personal safety and are forced to carry out arduous work for long hours – in many cases – (80 – 100) hours per week,” said Impact International.
The study revealed that thousands of children from neighbouring African countries are being smuggled to Ivory Coast to work in agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of children living in cocoa-growing areas work in cocoa production for extended hours, under unfair working conditions during which they receive insufficient food. They also experience physical violence or threats, especially if they try to escape.
The study also found that a large number of children in West African farms work on a voluntary basis and without getting paid. The number of children working without getting paid is estimated to be twice as many as those paid for their work in cocoa farms.
Difficult economic conditions push families in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to send their children to work in cocoa farms rather than acquire an education. This is so that they could earn a limited income that covers their basic needs. Farm owners tend to hire children due to the lower pay required in comparison to adults.
“This, of course, explains why some well-known brands have been unable to ensure that their products are free of child labour. While these companies rely on the importation of large amounts of Cote d’Ivoire cocoa, their products are partly manufactured through forced child labour,” said Martha Gardiner, a researcher at Impact International. “Even when chocolate companies confirmed their desire to eliminate child labour, they had a limited idea of how to do it, but their efforts were stopped due to hesitation and financial commitment. Child slavery continued because farmers’ incomes and living conditions did not improve,” she added.
The study reports that companies involved in the use of child labour did not take any real steps to address the child labour issues related to cocoa production. Initially, the most famous brands didn’t state any responsibility for the conditions of the cocoa farms, claiming that they were unaware of those problems and that the cocoa supply chain was too complex to guarantee the work practices of each farm. Consequently, child labour in various forms continues in cocoa farms in West Africa. Officials from chocolate brands have indirectly encouraged and supported child labour by means of their continued importation of cocoa, although unaware of the problem.
Impact International called on the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana to allocate funds to combat human trafficking and in so doing, establish more anti-trafficking units near cocoa-growing areas. Furthermore, cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire must be closely controlled and fines must be imposed on farm owners, who are found to be hiring children below the legal age. Adding on to that, free educational institutions should be provided to lessen the financial burden on poor families and thus prevent them from using their children in cocoa farms.
In their goal to end child exploitation in West Africa, ImpACT called chocolate producers who rely on imported cocoa from Ivory Coast and Ghana, to follow the cocoa import line and ensure that the farms they work with are free from child labour.