Child labor: Ghana and Ivory Coast urged to redress abuses over cocoa slavery

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Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have been urged to take urgent action to redress the damage to reputation resulting from the deliberate anti-slavery marketing approach used by chocolate makers in Europe.

The two main cocoa-producing countries have also been invited to review the national framework on risks related to child labor, over one and a half years old, which has been developed for cocoa.

Mr. Nico Roozen, honorary president of the Solidaridad network, which launched the appeal in Accra, said that ILO Convention 182, after defining child labor, required governments to give meaning to agreement on the basis of a local framework categorization of hazardous work.

“I have a hunch, based on my conversations, that the two governments need to conduct a multi-stakeholder process to review these documents which tend to be used by researchers in their counting and identifying what constitutes the worst. forms of child labor.

Mr Roozen, who led a roundtable on recent cocoa developments in Europe and its implications for sustainable market access in West Africa, said this responsibility must be carried out at the national level.

The roundtable organized by Solidaridad West Africa in Accra saw the participation of key leaders and practitioners of the cocoa sector from Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

According to a statement sent to the Ghanaian news agency on Wednesday in Accra, the roundtable was held against the backdrop of concerns about human rights, environmental degradation and governance issues related to the cocoa production in West Africa, which have prompted the European Commission to be at the forefront. decisive response.

These developments would have had implications for producing countries, in particular Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s main cocoa producers.

At the panel discussion, which saw more than 100 attendees connect physically and virtually, Mr Roozen lamented the reputational risk that emanates from misunderstanding the realities and calculated misinformation for marketing purposes.

He explained that in the perception of many Western consumers, West African cocoa was increasingly linked to child labor and even referred to as slavery just as palm oil was linked to deforestation.

He cited the slavery framing of Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch confectionery company, which purposely trumpets 100% slave-free chocolate on its packaging, with a brand logo with the historic slavery’s “broken chain”.

Mr Roozen claimed that there was no evidence of slavery in the cocoa sector in West Africa.

“Tony’s Chocolonely’s argument on slavery trends unduly takes advantage of some reported incidences of child labor to serve its marketing interest, as this has seen the candy maker expand its business across Europe, the North America and even Japan.

“Unfortunately, other brands are following this bad example of stigmatizing cocoa produced in West Africa,” he said.

Mr Roozen further estimated that there was a data-driven consensus that 97 percent of child labor cases were linked to children providing services to their parents on a family farm or as sharecroppers and it could best be understood as child labor. and not child labor.

He argued that “the classic definition of child labor, which takes into account a working condition that destroys the future of the child, is rare in the sub-region, as child labor that takes place in family farms does not compromise children’s education or affect their health and well-being. “

He said available data suggested that school attendance in cocoa growing communities had increased, citing Ghana’s implementation of Free Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) as having registered coverage of around 96 %.

Mr Roozen said it was therefore inappropriate to present farmers who sought to socialize, educate and impart agricultural knowledge to their children through training, as slave owners.

“I remember very well a farmer who told me, with great pride, that working with his son is a pleasure. It is socializing, educating oneself, learning agriculture and working successively for generations.

“With a smile on his face, he said,” of course I take care of my son and other African parents love their children too. “

With the same smile, his son confirms: “My father is not a slave owner”.

Mr Roozen also shared the anecdote of a seventeen-year-old who started spraying agrochemicals on his father’s farm.

The boy said, ‘I can read and understand the instructions on the container label, but my dad can’t. In addition, I could support the family business with my strength and learn invaluable lessons from working with my father.

“These farmer perspectives are not cited as selected stories to prove a thesis, but they color the data-based findings of child labor on family farms,” ​​he added.

Making suggestions for dealing with the issue of child labor, Mr Roozen asked rhetorically, “Who else will do the work that children are doing now?”

He argued that solving child labor was a matter of economy and should be seen as such.

“If the farmer could afford a hired workforce that provides decent work for an adult worker, that would have been his preference. But hired labor is too expensive in many cocoa growing areas in Ghana, where artisanal mining tends to compete for labor and pays a higher daily return to labor than agriculture. .

“In addition, minimum wages set by national governments are often higher than what the cocoa farmer can afford given the total income of the producer,” he said.

Mr Roozen said that historically, all over the world, the eradication of child labor has been linked to a process of modernizing agriculture with a number of key elements combined, including: the hiring of permanent workers and seasonal; mechanization / technology; growth of a company providing services: agrofinancing adapted to the needs of the sector; and processing the scale through appropriation or reassignment.

He said that the modernization of agriculture in many advanced economies, for example, was driven, among other things, to a large extent by cost-effective service provision with the latest technology, high-quality professionals with limited time. and efficient services at peak times.

“In these economies, laws and regulations on child labor have never been the real agents of change, nor have the traditional interventions of NGOs which only raised awareness of the issue.

Models of better incomes on the farm and in the supply chain have been decisive, ”he said.

Mr. Roozen drew lessons from Solidaridad’s involvement in innovative processes at three levels of intervention, in particular consumer mobilization through fair trade and organic; corporate engagement through corporate social responsibility concepts and sectoral approaches through round table processes.

He said that although it was an exciting trip, the scope and impact was limited to voluntary market acceptance.

“Voluntary standards were second best in the days of dominant neoliberal concepts of the retreating government leaving social and ecological responsibility to the market, with today’s ecological catastrophe and massive social exclusion as a result,” he said. Roozen said.

He also pleaded for a growing political consensus on the need to frame markets with regulations aimed at better social and ecological outcomes.

“However, I feel like we need to change our initial position which describes legislation as the next step in market transformation into a more critical position of warning for the unintended consequences and negative effects of regulations”, a- he declared. “The quality of regulation matters a lot”.

“Without a real understanding of the realities and partnerships with actors in producing countries, the legislation could be dead on arrival.

This would not solve the problems for farmers, but rather reduce the risks for the actors in the supply chain. “


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