Key NORC report on child labour within cocoa supply reveals significant concerns still remain

It seems there’s rarely a week within the confectionery and wider food and drink market that passes without a major breaking issue that proves of significant impact, and offers the industry plenty of reason to take a step back and reflect.

The past few days have been no exception to that with the release of the US-based NORC report into the prevalence of child labour in the cocoa supply chains of key markets in Ghana and Ivory Coast, as well as examining how the sector has moved to take a stand on the issue.

So the individual efforts of companies such as Nestle, Cargill, Hershey, Olam, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Ferrero, and Mondelez International, as well as organisations such as Fairtrade, have all been pushing to help make key inroads into reducing what remains a hugely troubling reality at the heart of the industry.

As anyone who has read the pages of Confectionery Production over the past few years in particular will have taken note of the fact that this relatively small group of major players have undoubtedly recognised that direct action has to be put into practice in order to make a difference to this major issue.

The substantial task of eradicating child labour is a huge undertaking linked to wider issues of farmer poverty and environmental concerns over deforestation and climate change that are also proving significantly challenging to address.

So there had been much anticipation surrounding the findings from the NORC report (from a specialist team based at the University of Chicago), on just how much, if at all, child labour had reduced over the past few years. From a wider industry figure of around 2 million children in child labour within the cocoa sector five years ago, this number had been found to have reduced to just over 1.5 million last year. While this is clearly to be welcomed, some sector observers have questioned whether this should be much greater.

This is especially the case given the fact that according to the NORC study, the majority of those identified in its latest figures had in fact been exposed to at least one form of hazardous child labour, which industry campaigners have highlighted as an unacceptable situation.

Further complicating matters, according to a group of non-governmental organisations, including Mighty Earth, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has, according to its own evidence, allegedly increased levels of child labour by 15-20% as communities struggle with market conditions surrounding the present Covid crisis.

Therefore, the picture on the ground today is seemingly far from clear, despite the best intentions of all those involved, including the World Cocoa Foundation, which has worked closely with NORC for a linked study to its report on the situation.

As the WCF has previously explained to Confectionery Production, the issue of child labour, as with all other aspects of driving forward the industry sustainably in Ghana and Ivory Coast, will require greater collaborative working in order to meet the ambitious target of completely removing child labour from supply chains. The deadlines for making targets have been pushed back over the years, which only serves to underline the scale of the task at hand.

The keys to unlocking further progress are numerous, but as sector experts have observed, must surely include further substantial investment in rural cocoa communities, combined with action from government and industry to bring about major change sooner rather than later.

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