It’s no secret that cocoa farmers in West Africa sometimes resort to child labour. Spiralling inflation, ever-higher production and wage costs and unsustainably low prices mean growers sometimes rely on children – who should be in school or playing with friends – as cheap or free labour.
It’s an increasingly uphill battle. According to a 2020 report there are around 1.5 million children aged five to 17 working on cocoa farms in the two countries.
Fairtrade prohibits child labour as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum age and the worst forms of child labour conventions. Our Standards are clear that children under 15 must not be employed by Fairtrade organisations, and that under-18s cannot do work that jeopardises their schooling or their development. Children are only allowed to help on family farms under strict conditions, including outside school hours or during holidays.
However, we’re not naive. No certification system can provide a 100 percent guarantee that a product is free of child labour. We know it happens – sometimes, sadly, even on Fairtrade certified co-ops – and that’s why, from July 1, we’re further strengthening our efforts to prevent child labour and to put things right when we do find it.
The Fairtrade Child Labour and Forced Labour Prevention and Remediation Programme comes with an initial €450,000 budget to help co-ops invest in generating additional household income so they don’t have to put children to work. Grants will also be available for children’s education and for community projects that address household poverty.
The programme will finance around 10 proposals in the first year, with co-ops encouraged to come up with ideas for new ways of tacking child labour. Funding will be allocated based on innovation and potential impact, and all projects will be monitored and evaluated to see if they can be replicated and scaled up elsewhere. Ideas based on co-ops’ own experiences and priorities are also an important aspect of the programme’s funding criteria.
The new fund is jointly organised by Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Africa, with financial backing from national Fairtrade organisations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It’s hoped that cocoa exporters, importers, manufacturers, brands and retailers in Fairtrade cocoa supply chains will get involved and contribute to the fund.