Switzerland and EU should establish funds to compensate for child slavery

Switzerland and EU should establish funds to compensate for child slavery
A child working in a cocoa farm - (Daniel Rosenthal)

London – Switzerland and the European Union should provide financial compensation for child slavery, which many Swiss and European companies have engaged in and continue to exploit through supply chains to maximize financial profits at the expense of the vulnerable; ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies said in a statement.

The London-based think tank applauds Nestlé’s announcement that it would pay farmers to keep children out of cocoa fields, which would strengthen efforts to reduce child labour in the $100 billion-a-year chocolate industry.

The decision is a significant step that will require other global companies to follow suit and implement effective measures to reduce child labour in the chocolate industry and elsewhere.

While global consumption of chocolate products is increasing, well-known chocolate companies import cocoa fruits from farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where children aged five to 14 are employed.

Simultaneously, ImpACT urged Nestlé to also consider compensating survivors of past wrongs where tens of thousands of people had to endure exploitation on farms and fields when they were children.

Around 1.5 million children are estimated to work in the cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast and neighbouring Ghana, which produce 60% of the world’s cocoa supply.

Nestlé’s decision comes as the European Union drafts legislation that will require major global corporations, by 2024, to prove that no child labour is used in the production of all cocoa beans.

Faced with these laws and rising public awareness about where food comes from, Nestlé, Mars, the Mondel─ôz International-owned Cadbury, and other chocolate companies have entered a competition and announced billions of dollars in investments to rid their production of child labour, according to The Times newspaper.

Nestlé decided to start directly paying farmers to keep children out of their fields; the company made $90 billion (approx. 74.5 billion GBP) in sales last year.

According to the British newspaper, Nestlé pays farmers $500 (approx. 414 GBP) per year if they send their children to school and implement other sustainable practices that could double their income. The company stated that the first batch of products from this project, a set of Kit Kat wafer bars, would be released next year.

Cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast earn an estimated $0.78 (0.65 GBP) per day, while those in Ghana earn about $1 (0.83 GBP), both well below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of $2.15 (1.78 GBP) per day.

Nestlé’s project aims to provide farmers with funds to help them expand their cocoa production and other businesses. The company also funded the establishment of community banks run by farmers’ wives, allowing them to take out loans to invest in beauty salons, selling fruit, and other businesses, and then repay them with the profits earned.

ImpACT emphasized the importance of enacting stricter laws in response to major global companies’ scrutiny, or lack thereof, of some supply chains requiring low-skilled labour and several tasks better suited to children than adults.

Actual progress toward the abolition of child labour necessitates a combination of demanding decent work conditions, social protection systems for children, and the expansion of basic services for the most vulnerable groups in poor countries, including support for education provision for all children.

A previous ImpACT study revealed the involvement of well-known chocolate companies such as Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Mars in the sale of products involving forced labour of children in West African region is akin to slavery.

While global consumption of chocolate products is increasing, well-known chocolate companies import cocoa fruits from farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where children aged five to 14 are employed. These children are, in many cases, forced to work hard for periods of up to 80 to 100 hours per week, in hazardous working conditions that jeopardize their safety.

The ImpACT study revealed that thousands of children are smuggled from neighbouring African countries into the Ivory Coast to work in agriculture. Approximately two-thirds of children who live in cocoa-growing areas work in cocoa production for long hours under unfair working conditions, receiving insufficient food and being subjected to physical violence or threats, especially if they attempt to flee.

Furthermore, the study discovered that a large number of children on West African farms work for free, with the number of unpaid children estimated to be twice as large as those who are paid for their work on cocoa farms.

Difficult economic conditions in both Ivory Coast and Ghana force families to send their children to work on cocoa farms rather than educate them, in order to provide a limited financial income to cover their parent’s basic needs. Moreover, farm owners prefer to employ children due to their lower wage levels compared to adults.

According to the study, the companies that used child labour took no real measures or steps to address child labour issues related to cocoa production.

Initially, the most well-known brands shrugged off their responsibility for working conditions on cocoa farms, claiming that they were unaware of the issues and that the cocoa supply chain was too complicated to guarantee working conditions on every farm.

Chocolate production companies that rely on cocoa fruits imported from Ivory Coast and Ghana must follow cocoa import guidelines, ensure that the farms with which they work are free of child labour, and end child employment and exploitation in West Africa and beyond.

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