How to address child labour in supply chains – the cocoa case

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Procurement and child labour

Cocoa is a cash crop on which 14 million people worldwide depend for their livelihoods. The majority of cocoa growers live in West Africa, a region that is responsible for 70% of global production.


Around four million tonnes of cocoa are produced each year to meet the demand driven by a billion consumers. With a massive global appetite for chocolate, the potential of cocoa to support and transform the lives of those who grow it has never been greater.


However, the use of child labour within the cocoa industry and, more broadly, in African smallholder agriculture is both prevalent and widespread – an estimated 2.1 million children, or one in three children living in cocoa-growing areas – work in unacceptable conditions in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.


Most small-scale farmers live below the poverty line on less than one US dollar a day. They work hard at the bottom of a fragmented and complex supply chain. When it comes to cocoa-growing communities, like many rural communities in the region, these farmers have limited access to basic social services like education, clean water, health, sanitation and road infrastructure.


As a result, many of them have little alternative to taking their children to help out on the farm, often in hazardous conditions or to the detriment of their schooling.


Step-change needed


The cocoa industry is poised at an interesting moment in the relatively short history of social responsibility. New legally binding requirements (e.g. the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act) and voluntary guidelines (e.g. the 2012 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) are all encouraging companies to change the way they conduct their business operations and to look deeper into their supply chains.


They increasingly accept an obligation to address such issues such as child labour, but also, importantly, to contribute to the solutions.


The days of businesses burying their heads in the sand are, generally accepted to be numbered. But these refined definitions of due diligence, combined with increasing calls for transparency and public reporting, brings significant risks for companies when, elsewhere, expectations for “full-compliance” or “absolute purity” still abound.


Collaborative platforms such as the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) are helping reduce this risk, providing solidarity and strength in numbers. ICI works with a range of stakeholders including the cocoa industry, farming communities and governments in cocoa producing countries to ensure a better future for children.


Commitment and collective learning


What can others learn from the cocoa case? A first step to eliminating child labour in supply chains is to understand its definitions, its scale and its causes, and to publicly commit to tackling the issue. Risk and situational assessments can help understand the impact on child labour risks.


As such, companies are better equipped to mitigate these risks by building internal systems for identifying, reporting and remediating child labour cases. Businesses can now design and implement child-focused initiatives and venture beyond their core operations to directly engage in social sustainability programmes. The effectiveness and impact of these social interventions need to be monitored, measured and reported on transparently.


Brokering partnerships with key stakeholders is important too. Reducing risk factors that affect child development exceeds the capacity of any given company or supply chain. Industries have to come together to form coalitions, such as the CocoaAction, to really drive progress.


The collective learning that multi-stakeholder models represent allows others to observe the experience of companies or services which have pioneered and tested specific innovations. It helps other actors to evaluate both its positive impact and its negative effects, and thus collectively define good practice. This is all the more powerful and credible when those engaged in the collective learning process include non-corporate stakeholders and experts from civil society, the development community, and the governments of the producing and consuming countries.


In 2019 Procurement Leaders will be championing efforts to stamp out the blight of child labour. If you would like to get involved, please email


This contributed article has been written by the International Cocoa Initiative at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.


If you would like to know more about the International Cocoa Initiative click here


Picture: BOULENGER Xavier /

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