When reports began to emerge in the mid-1990s about poor labor conditions in the cocoa industry, including labor trafficking and the worst forms of child labor, no major chocolate maker was willing to accept responsibility. After years of negotiations, campaigns, and public outcry, the chocolate industry has begun to recognize the need for changes in supply chain accountability. Despite myriad projects aimed at improving education, increasing productivity, and implementing cocoa certification, the collective impact has been limited and the industry has been unable to solve the root cause of the problem: the very low prices paid to farmers.
This report is the product of nearly two years of research and dialogue with diverse actors in the industry. We surveyed farmers, chocolate companies, and certification programs. We spoke with government representatives, cooperative managers, farmer associations and unions. In all of these conversations we encountered both optimism and frustration and some trends that give cause for hope that future solutions will be more holistic and sustainable.
Some farmers, unable to make a living from cocoa, are beginning to ‘vote with their feet’ by moving into other industries such as palm and rubber. This trend may help unite different interests because now there is both a moral imperative and a market incentive to increase the price farmers can secure for their cocoa. Although approaches still vary, and some are better informed than others, we have found a sincere interest among nearly all stakeholders in ending child labor in the cocoa industry.
This report is intended to help advance a new phase of advocacy and dialogue. We aim to identify strategies and points of collaboration in the industry and to lift up the perspectives of farmers. Industry and civil society, national and international actors alike all have a role to play. Continuing and sustaining progress will require frank discussions about how to end persistent poverty among cocoa farmers in West Africa. We need to agree upon best practice interventions and strategies for incentivizing transparency, accountability and greater pre-competitive industry collaboration. We need to ensure farmers have access – to information, to market, and to support – so that they can lead the improvements they want to see.