“Some problems are just too complex for a simple solution. When it comes to human rights abuses, a punitive approach can drive the problem underground, making it even harder to address.”
As a human rights specialist at the Rainforest Alliance, I have learned that creating an environment where farming communities feel supported to speak up about abuses—without the threat of punishment—is more likely to result in cases of child labor being reported. And when that happens, the private and public sectors can work side-by-side with rural communities to not only mitigate abuses as they are uncovered but also take action to prevent them from happening in the first place.
That’s why, in 2021, the Rainforest Alliance asked ofi, who we have partnered with since 2010, to help us pilot a new approach to tackling child labor with two groups of cocoa farmers in Ghana. It’s called the ‘Assess-and-Address’ (A&A) system, and it’s supported by a strong grievance mechanism requirement.
The system, a requirement of the Rainforest Alliance 2020 Certification Program, incentivizes farmers to form A&A committees, uncover the root causes of child labor on farms and put a tailored plan in place to remediate suspected cases. Some farmers have already dubbed the system “expose it, resolve it, end it” in the local Twi language.
The pilot looked at how we could complement ofi’s existing and locally implemented Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLRMS) with our A&A system to deliver maximum impact on the ground.
Here are three things we learned in the process:
- Robust systems: The two systems have complementary strengths. For example, A&A offers a systematic approach to identifying and mitigating the risks of child labor—from risk assessment and risk mitigation to child labor monitoring, a grievance mechanism, and human rights awareness raising across the group members. Whereas CLMRS allows ofi’s Ghanaian teams to monitor households that need more rigorous monitoring and remediation, like multiple household visits and interviews with each farmer group member.
- Farmer training: The Rainforest Alliance training on A&A helped the ofi teams based in Ghana with additional training, tools, and procedures to further build upon the system they already had to address labor risks. In combination with the CLMRS, this has led to real results on the ground. Take the case of Bright Adu, the son of a farmer in ofi Ghana’s cocoa supply chain. Last year, via ofi’s existing monitoring and remediation system, he was found to be doing hazardous tasks on his family’s farm and often missed class. Together, we stepped in — explaining to his parents the consequences of child labor and providing school supplies. As a result, Bright got back into the classroom to focus on his education.
It’s not just child labor issues that the A&A system can help solve. There is also a grievance and redress mechanism for farmers and workers to report any human rights abuses in their communities. For instance, in 2021, two cases of farmworkers not being paid were successfully addressed, demonstrating to others that it’s worth reporting issues instead of keeping them hidden.
- Community engagement: Community support and engagement are key to success, but these relationships need to be fostered through outreach activities.
Changing commonly-held perceptions takes time, so it’s crucial to have a constant dialogue to create a lasting impact. For example, giving committee members a weekly or monthly stipend, travel allowance, or in-kind benefits, encourages them to be part of the solution by raising awareness and helping to solve child labor issues.
By the end of 2021, the Rainforest Alliance had trained 2,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana on human rights and child labor issues. The A&A system combined with ofi’s CLMRS gives us a solid foundation that puts farmer groups in the driving seat of their communities and helps shape our approach for the future.