In 2010, findings of a research commissioned by Tulane University under a grant by the US Government showed that a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years work in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well being. The report further establishes that about 40% children working in cocoa fields of Ivory Coast are not enrolled in schools and that only 5% of Ivorian children are paid for their work. UNICEF further estimates nearly 35,000* Ivorian children working on cocoa farms as victims of trafficking.
In a recent sequence of events, food giant Nestle in a bid to investigate the accusations that child labour is endemic in farms supplying cocoa to its factories has announced to partner with the Fair Labour Association (FLA) in surveying the cocoa fields for ascertaining the magnitude of the issue and finding sustainable solutions to rehabilitate children found working in the supplier farms of Ivory Coast. Nestle is the first food brand to have joined FLA on the likes of very many apparel retailers and footwear brands that endeavour to end sweatshop conditions in the factories producing goods for them. But would this move appropriately address the worst forms of child labour rampant in the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast is a question that may not have a straightforward answer for the time being.
Expressing deep concern over the hazardous conditions under which children work on the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour said that many of these children working in the cocoa fields at pittance or no wages are physically and sexually exploited. Handling of chemicals and prolonged exposure to pesticides make these children prone to incorrigible respiratory and dermatological diseases. Negligent and unassisted working with heavy farm equipments and sharp tools leave many children crippled for life. Looming political instability in Ivory Coast has further worsened the plight of child labourers. Mr. Satyarthi further commented that the situation wouldn’t get any better until collective action is taken by all the stake holders to progressively eliminate child labour from the cocoa sector.
Commending the efforts of International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Mr. Satyarthi said that ICI’s five pronged approach comprising of working at the national level to support appropriate and effective policies; capacity building of local partners and relevant institutions; implementing community based projects to change attitudes and practices; supporting social protection for victims of exploitation and sharing lessons learned to promote effective / wider engagement has yielded significant results in terms of reduction in the number of children using machete, handling pesticides and carrying heavy loads in cocoa farms. Besides supporting education programs at the community level, ICI has also been instrumental in training police officials to combat trafficking; sensitizing the judiciary on the subject of child labour and trafficking of children for forced labour and liasoning with the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of family women & children of both the countries. ICI has successfully got the anti-child trafficking objectives incorporated in the National Action Plans of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Underpinning the intervention model of ICI as exemplary, Mr. Satyarthi reiterated that effective labour law enforcement coupled up with a child friendly approach for holistically rehabilitating rescued children and their reintegration into the mainstream society essentially requires utmost political will of all the stakeholders involved, appetite for challenging the conventional norms that justify child labour, ability to debunk social myths surrounding the issue and agility for working at the grass roots level towards sensitization of the masses.
Mr. Satyarthi finally stated that “Given the fact that 60% of the child labourers across the globe are engaged in the agricultural sector under arduous conditions, Global March has decided to host the International Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture at Washington D.C in June 2012 for mobilizing global opinion around this most widespread variant of child labour”.