Cocoa: Covid-19 exposes the fragility of mechanisms to combat child labour

Stake: to identify the impact of Covid-19 on the well-being of the farmers and particularly their children, as well as the solutions to be provided to prevent the worsening of an already precarious situation.
Between 17 March and 15 May 2020, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) Foundation analysed data from 263 cocoa-producing communities (1,443 households from 40 different cooperatives and 3,223 children interviewed) in Côte d’Ivoire to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on child labour, based on the Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS)1 . The study found that during the semi-confinement period, the percentage of children identified as being involved in hazardous work increased from 16 to 19.4 per cent compared to the same months in previous years in the same communities, an increase of 21.5 per cent.

1 Developed by the ICI Foundation, the SSRTE is a device integrated into the supply chain of cocoa producing companies and chocolate manufacturers to detect, remedy and prevent child labour. The system is based on the presence in cocoa communities of community facilitators (e.g. relay producers) responsible for raising awareness about child labor, detecting cases of child labor and proposing support and remedial measures to prevent and combat the phenomenon. All information is collected using smartphones and compiled in a database from which systematic analysis can be conducted to refine remedial strategies. The SSRTE complies with the United Nations Guidelines on Business and Human Rights. It enables companies to assess the real impact of their activities in terms of respect for human rights, to take appropriate action based on the conclusions of the assessment, to verify whether the solutions implemented are effective and to collect reliable information in order to communicate the results obtained.

This is the worrying conclusion that the Foundation published on its website on Wednesday 1 July. Although at this stage it is not clear to what extent this increase is directly attributable to the pandemic, several factors directly related to the country’s « lockdown » and the measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus have had a negative impact on the well-being of the communities concerned.
Among them, the closure of all pre-schools, primary and secondary schools (parents may have taken their children to the exploitation, where they would have been supervised and could have been called to participate in the work ; previous analyses by ICI teams have shown that the prevalence of child labour is higher in communities without schools and during school holidays compared to the schooling period), as well as the introduction of curfews and travel restrictions, regulating transport within and between towns and isolating greater Abidjan from the rest of the country (reducing the availability of adult labour and compensating for the lack of manpower by using children).
Finally, the global economic slowdown observed and the fall in the price of raw materials, while having tangible consequences on all the country’s economic sectors and on various aspects of the well-being of the population, have, unsurprisingly, particularly weighed on the most vulnerable members of Ivorian society. This is what emerges from the telephone survey conducted by the ICI Foundation among certified cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, more than half of whom reported a decrease in household income since the closure of schools in March. Studies on income shocks also show that when household incomes decline, child labor tends to increase. In addition, partial confinement has automatically disrupted government, civil society and industry-led programs to support vulnerable cocoa-producing households and raise awareness about child protection.

Source : cocoainitiative.org

According to the ICI, although the increase in child labour on plantations may be partly due to other factors (changing economic environment, project cycles of monitoring systems, changing qualifications and motivations of community facilitators, etc.), These results « highlight the vulnerability of cocoa-producing households and show that progress in the fight against child labor can be quickly reversed », highlighting the importance of making more efforts to strengthen the capacity of cocoa-producing households to withstand future shocks, whether related to labor availability, health or climate.

Read also: Cocoa: child labour in question(s) – Interview with sociologist Rodrigue Koné
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A non-profit foundation, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) works for the protection of children in cocoa-producing communities. An industry leader, it brings together the forces of the cocoa and chocolate industry, civil society, cocoa communities and governments in cocoa-producing countries to secure a better future for children and works to eliminate child labor. Together with its partners, it works to ensure that cocoa communities provide greater protection for children and their rights, that the production chain responsibly manages the risk of child labour and that knowledge and information is disseminated in an open and transparent manner. Operating in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana since 2007, ICI supports the implementation of comprehensive child protection strategies in 232 cocoa communities and 214 cooperatives benefiting 381,144 children.