For several years, the Council on Ethics has participated in a project that aims to prevent child labour among cocoa farmers. Dialogues have been held with a number of cocoa purchasers, as well as with other representatives for the industry. The cocoa industry has been criticised for many years for its ties to child labour in the supply chain, above all for its purchases from West Africa, where 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans are produced.
Complex issue Cocoa beans are cultivated on a small scale by millions of farmers and then pass through a complex supply chain. Hundreds of thousands of children work at cocoa plantations; some of them doing risky work. It may involve heavy lifting or the risk of being exposed to pesticides. Work on plantations also prevents children from going to school. At the end of 2014, the World Cocoa Foundation held a conference in Copenhagen at which representatives from the chocolate and cocoa industry, resellers, governments of cocoa producing countries, NGOs, the academic world and research institutes from more than 20 countries participated. They shared their knowledge about the recent development of sustainability in the cocoa sector and what improvements have occurred in the farmers’ supply. The conference in Copenhagen concluded with a round-table discussion between participants from the cocoa industry and investors, in which the Council on Ethics participated. Various solutions to child labour and how the matter should be handled in continuation were discussed there. Child labour is not an issue isolated to the cocoa industry, but occurs in many impoverished agricultural societies where the children’s labour is often seen as necessary in order for the families to be able to provide for themselves. The lack of financial opportunities in these communities has also resulted in young people choosing to move in to the cities. Consequently, a challenge for the cocoa industry is not just to combat child labour, but to also make cocoa cultivation attractive to the next generation so that young people stay in the communities. This is important so that the industry will avoid a shortage of labour and raw materials. Today, the average age of cocoa growers in West Africa is well over 50. Letters and meetings with cocoa companies In 2015, the Council on Ethics together with several other investors wrote letters to several of the world’s largest cocoa companies. These letters have since been followed up with phone conferences with the companies. The objective of the activities has been to get companies to report results of the projects companies conduct among cocoa farmers in West Africa. They shall also be able to show that their program for cocoa growers and other initiatives are effective. It is important to increase the incomes of cocoa growers, improve access to school for children and improve systems for discovering child labour.
Cocoa Action is an initiative that was begun in 2014 and is coordinated by the World Cocoa Foundation. The objective of Cocoa Action is to coordinate and adapt the sustainability work in the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate companies, in part through greater cooperation between the industry and governments in countries where cocoa is grown. Cocoa Action is currently focusing on Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which together account for around 55 per cent of the world’s current cocoa production. The initiative will later be expanded to other cocoa-producing countries. Many cocoa companies are involved in Cocoa Action, including: Barry Callebaut, Cargill, The Hershey Company, Mondelèz International, Nestlé and Olam. Even if a great deal remains to be done, solutions are being discussed as to how companies involved with Cocoa Action will address the problems in the industry and put concrete measures in place in West Africa. This means that the Council on Ethics cautiously views the development in the future in a positive light. In the Council on Ethics’ continued involvement in the cocoa industry, the development and the measures now discussed will be followed up.