WASHINGTON, October 5, 2011—Human rights advocates are urging The Hershey Company to strengthen Fair Trade Initiative demands to end child labor in the Ivory Coast. However, one has to ask if fair trade is the best way to eliminate child labor in the Ivorian cooca industry.
The Fair Trade Initiative, begun in the U.S. in 2000, is a system of exchange where purchasers, like the Hersey and Nestle companies, agree to pay a slightly higher cost for the cocoa nibs used to make chocolate products, to make sure workers are able to maintain a level of income that would allow for basic standards of living and to help reduce the need for family child labor to harvest the cocoa crops.
Child labor is a money and a cultural issue. Cocoa farms in West African countries, including the Ivory Coast, have been traditionally worked by the family unit, including the children. According to UNICEF, 87% of labor used in cocoa farming came from the family.
Even the President of the Ivory Coast worked on a farm with his parents as a child.
Severe poverty levels in the Ivory Coast exacerbates the need for child labor. Almost 50% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and it’s common for cocoa farmers to live without electricity or water.
With Ivorian farmers and their children not ready, or able, to accept the terms of fair trade, imposing Fair Trade laws, or boycotts may not be the best course of action.
Local farmers see anti-child labor campaigns as intimidation rather than an opportunity for children’s education. For Ivorian cocoa farmers living on $2 a day, Americans boycotting their products sounds much more threatening than not sending their children to school.
Many also see child labor regulations as cultural imperialism, imposing western ideals on them.
Instead of demanding that chocolate companies adhere to fair trade practices, the government and advocates must address systemic problems of high tax rates, poverty, governmental bribes and the culture of the Ivory Coast to eliminate child labor on the cocoa farms.
According to a March 2011 BBC report chocolate companies claiming to implement the fair trade process are stil relying on child labor. The BBC report found one Ivory Coast farmer who was sending his products to the Nestle co-operative as part of its fair trade initiative still relying on his “eight year old brother and eleven year old son” to harvest the cocoa and that neither of the boys are attending school.
One of the causes behind child labor in the Ivorian cocoa industry are high tax rates that, according to a Financial Times report, has 40% of the proceeds from the sale of international cocoa going to the African government.
That fee for cococa applies to all cocoa growers whether they are certified with fair trade or not.
Such high tax rates leave many Ivorian subsistence farmers with no choice but to rely on their children’s labor to harvest crops. There are no surplus funds to hire legitimate employees. One farmer says even if he wanted to send his children to school, he has no choice but to rely on them to work the farm.
Poverty, not the parent farmer, denies children their rights to an education.
To fully eliminate the problem of child labor in the Ivory Coast, advocates should focus on eliminating corruption and, subsequently, poverty in Ivory Coast before introducing the idea of fair trade to Ivorian farmers. Only then will the term “fair trade” become genuinely fair for Ivorian children.
Advocates should also continue supporting the education of Ivorian children through local nonprofits.
Following is a list of a few nonprofits working with Ivorian children.
Youngbee Dale is a freelance writer, researcher, and human rights advocate. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter
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