Whether it is ultimately processed into candy bars, cake, cocoa powder or other food and drink products, the cocoa bean is a global favorite. Despite that high demand, cocoa farmers struggle to make a profit.
Most of the 14 million people who grow the prized cocoa bean are poor, and 10.5 million live in Africa, according to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). The organization works with nongovernmental organizations, labor unions, cocoa processors and major chocolate brands to improve labor standards in the industry.
More than 95 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown on small farms because growing cocoa is a labor-intensive process that is difficult to mechanize. Sadly, much of that labor is supplied by children.
Some child workers are victims of human trafficking, sometimes even sold into servitude by their own families.
In Côte d’Ivoire, which grows nearly half the world’s cocoa, an estimated 200,000 children work on the farms. ICI says many of them, like other child laborers around the world, work to support their families. Their experiences can be useful if they gain skills to help carry on the family business as adults, but too often they come at the cost of their education. Children also risk their health if they are exposed to pesticides, cut down trees or perform other hazardous work.
International corporations and nations such as Côte d’Ivoire are beginning to make changes to improve the profitability of cocoa farming and eliminate the need for child labor, the State Department reports.
In May 2014, 12 major chocolate and cocoa companies launched CocoaAction, an initiative to “sustain the cocoa industry and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.”
By 2020, CocoaAction aims to have trained and delivered improved planting material and fertilizer to 300,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to “empower communities through education, child labor monitoring and women’s empowerment,” the group said.
The program would eliminate child labor on the farms it helps. That change would increase school enrollments, improve attendance and enhance academic performance, CocoaAction said.
Both ICI and the Oxfam charity organization welcomed the move as a “positive signal,” including its “strong focus on child labour monitoring.”
If you love chocolate, be aware that many children are still involved in cocoa farming. You can help by raising awareness and supporting those who are working for reforms.