Child labor remains a problem in cocoa farming. For years, the chocolate industry has promised to end the practice, but a new study shows it has actually increased. Despite decades of promises, success is still a long way off, as a new study by the NORC research institute at the University of Chicago shows.
20 years ago, major chocolate manufactures like Mars and Nestle have promised to end the worst forms of child labor. They even set themselves clear goals and deadlines by signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001.
When the targets were missed, they were repeatedly postponed and adjusted. "In 2005, the deadline was extended to 2008, and then in 2008 to 2010," said Johannes Schorling from Inkota, a development policy network based in Berlin.
In 2010, a revised target was announced to reduce child labor by 70% come 2020. "That hasn't happened either, on the contrary child labor has actually increased over the last 10 years," Schorling told DW. According to the NORC study, the use of child labor is now at 45%, an increase of 14% points. Given the goal of a 70% reduction, such an increase might well be termed a complete failure.
1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports. Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans.
On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands. Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.
A big problem for farmers is the low price cocoa fetches on world markets. In recent years, a ton of cocoa beans brought in just over $2,000 (€1,680), only half of the price it fetched in the 1970s. The farmers must therefore be more productive. Market forces alone seem unable to ensure that farmers can actually secure a livelihood. It takes years for cocoa trees to produce good yields, so farmers cannot just grow something else when prices fall.
Farmers receive only a tiny fraction of what customers pay for a bar of chocolate. Most of the money goes to the chocolate companies and retail chains, which are mostly based in the US and Europe, and increasingly in Asia. Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast earned only $0.78 a day on average, according to a study by Fairtrade, an NGO, compared with a living wage of $2.51.