Human Rights and Child Labour

Human and labour rights

Cocoa farmers´ low income leads to serious violations of human and labour rights on cocoa farms. Because of their poor income, farmers cannot pay sufficient salaries to the workers and provide them with acceptable accommodation and health care. Furthermore, workers and farmers are often exposed to hazardous working conditions: they handle pesticides without protective clothing, work with dangerous tools and have excessive working hours. They face gender and ethnic discrimination and suffer from poor nutrition. Communities lack access to education, drinking water and effective community management.

The worsening of working conditions often leads to breaches of internationally recognised human rights principles and labour rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Furthermore, to keep the costs even lower, farmers are inclined to use child labour, which keeps children away from education and is dangerous to their physical and mental health.

Child labour

The impoverishment of cocoa farmers forces them to find ways to reduce production costs as much as possible. One unfortunate consequence of this is that children are working on plantations under abusive or hazardous conditions. There are over 2 million children working on cocoa plantations in Ghana and Ivory Coast alone, more than 500,000 of them working under abusive conditions (Source: Tulane report 2015).

Exploitative work

A quarter of all children aged 5 to 17 who live in cocoa-growing regions in West Africa are involved in cocoa production. They are mostly working on family farms together with their parents. Children helping their parents and contributing to the household income is perfectly normal, but it is internationally not acceptable and considered abusive if this work harms the children´s physical or mental health, is dangerous or harmful or keeps them away from education. As common examples of hazardous work, children involved in cocoa production use dangerous tools like machetes, carry very heavy loads, or are exposed to pesticides – activities which often inflict pain and injury.

Although there have been some improvements, there is evidence that child trafficking for forced labour is unfortunately still existent in cocoa-growing regions: especially in Ivory Coast, children from neighbouring countries are bought for low prices and exploited as cheap labourers.

Abusive child labour and child trafficking are serious breaches of international human rights standards and are prohibited under international labour law (ILO regulations 182 and 138) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (32/1). In 2001, the cocoa and chocolate industry agreed to abolish exploitative child labour by 2005 by signing the voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol. The deadline has been extended several times. The current target of the protocol is to reduce the worst forms of child labour by 70% by 2020. The Tulane report shows that 1.5 million children still have to be removed from hazardous work by 2020 in order to meet the promise of the chocolate industry.

For more information on the developments in child labour in West Africa, read the news on the Tulane report that was published on July, 30 2015.