Tackling child labor: Cargill Cocoa Sustainability Director updates on 2025 goals

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09 Jul 2018 --- Almost two decades ago, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that all children should be protected from dangerous work or anything that might harm their health or education. There is a very long way to go on this journey, however, as stark statistics reveal. Today, there are still 152 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom are carrying out harmful and exploitative tasks on a daily basis. More than two million of these children work on cocoa farms in West Africa; a region where Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate (Cargill Cocoa) sources most of its cocoa beans.

Cargill Cocoa shares the international community’s commitment to ending child labor in all its forms by 2025, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ ambitions to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth. That is why Cargill Cocoa has set the same timeline for achieving zero incidents of child labor in their supply chain as part of the company’s Cocoa Promise. But in order to achieve this, it is crucial to understand and address the underlying causes of child labor, the company claims.

Many children working on cocoa plantations do so within their families. Often, rural households rely on children’s farm work to save on both labor and education costs. But, as the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has pointed out, this only perpetuates a cycle of poverty. Educating rural families about the long-term benefits of schooling, while also raising awareness about the harm that hazardous work causes to children’s physical and mental well-being, is the first step that needs to be taken. But to end child labor for good, efforts must go further.

In 2016, Cargill launched its Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), instigated alongside the industry’s World Cocoa Forum Cocoa Action commitment, and in close collaboration with the ICI. What started off as a pilot project aimed at eight farming cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire has since only gone from strength to strength. In 2017, CLMRS efforts reached 5,200 farmers and nearly 8,400 children, with information about child labor prevention and monitoring services.

Tackling child labor has to be an ongoing effort. Monitoring progress involves twice-yearly visits to farming households by local farming coaches. These members of the community have been trained to support their peers during the summer period when children are likely to be home and during the harvest period when more people are working. In addition, when farming coaches visit at other times for other reasons, they are taught to look out for signs of child labor at the same time. This “insider” approach to CLMRS means that action can be taken quickly where needed.

In an interview with FoodIngredientsFirst, Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, reflects on efforts so far to tackle child labor in the cocoa sector. “Child labor, along with any forced or exploitative labor, is unacceptable as it violates basic human rights and the law. Because child labor still exists in the regions from which we source, we as an industry must work against it to ensure a safe and sustainable supply of cocoa now and into the future,” he says. 

Child labor is a symptom of poverty, he stresses. When farming families rely on cocoa farming as a single source of income, their economic situation can be precarious. In turn, they may depend on their children helping with farm work to save on both education fees and labor costs. Child labor is a complex problem which requires multiple solutions at the individual, family, and community levels. 

By focusing on improving farmer livelihoods and access to education, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate can help eradicate poverty and the other causes of child labor. The company says it is working to make a difference by focusing on three areas:
•  Training farmers.
•  Supporting farming communities, including school education programs.
•  Investing in the long-term sustainable production of their crops.

“We launched the Cargill Cocoa Promise in 2012 as part of our long-term commitment to creating a thriving cocoa sector. In 2017, we launched five goals which help guide our strategy until 2030. These include improving cocoa farming practices, enhancing the safety and well-being of children in families in cocoa farming communities, protecting our planet through zero deforestation in our supply chain and investing in partnerships that accelerate and magnify transformation in the cocoa sector,” he explains. 

The Cargill Cocoa Promise serves as the blueprint for building a more sustainable cocoa supply chain and better business for all from farmer to consumer. Terheijden comments: “Our work combines the benefits of data-driven, information management and personal relationships. We see this in our CLMRS program which is built on the trust between the farmer coaches and the communities they serve as well as the insights we gather from the data they collect which help identify which communities may be at greater risk for child labor. We can combine the approaches to target prevention efforts and supportive community development practices.”

Furthermore, Terheijden recognizes that helping cocoa farming communities and tackling the issues around child labor cannot be achieved alone. “In addition to our efforts, we support the work of ICI, the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Labor Organization to help combat child labor, as well as supporting projects such as the Cocoa Livelihoods Program and the African Cocoa Initiative that are making a real and lasting difference in cocoa farming communities.”

He continues: “I expect that we at Cargill will see greater synergies within our sustainability efforts so that, for example, data collected from GPS mapping of our farms for our traceability program, our Coop Management System, and our CLMRS efforts can be linked. In doing so, we can learn from experience and better target interventions or recognize success by collaborating with coops and communities to jointly support infrastructure or other community development projects. I also think there will be increasingly efficient collaboration at the industry level.”

Terheijden concludes: “We are facing the same challenges and share many of the same goals; I think that now more than ever we have an opportunity and a responsibility to address these and can do so more effectively if we work together strategically.”

By Elizabeth Green

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