The 12th June was World Child Labour Day. Edward Millard, Director Sustainable Landscapes at the Rainforest Alliance talks about how the Rainforest Alliance works to prevent child labour on farms every day.
For the last ten years, public concern about children working illegally or being forced to do unsafe work has been closely linked to the chocolate industry. Since evidence of children being exploited in cocoa farms first reached mainstream media across the globe in 2000, consumers, politicians and activist groups have been asking the large companies what they are doing to ensure that child labour is not present in their supply chains.
In UK the issue has remained largely outside the political domain. By contrast, in the USA, two politicians, Congressman Eliot Engel and Senator Tom Harkin took an initiative to commit the industry to ensure that its chocolate was free of child labour. The resulting Harkin-Engel Protocol triggered a series of initiatives to address the problem, including forming an independent organization for education and monitoring, the International Cocoa Initiative, ICI (www.cocoainitiative.org), to which the industry gave funding support. The focus of ICI’s work has been Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s two largest suppliers of cocoa beans. Both governments passed laws and committed resources to support the effort to build awareness in communities of the need for children to attend school.
Neither the governments nor the industry lack commitment to remove child labour from the cocoa industry and in both countries education is free and compulsory; but the problem is how to reach the tens of thousands of villages where cocoa is produced, and where schooling facilities are often deficient. As the Panorama programme aired in the UK on the BBC in March 2010 revealed, the problem is not yet solved. In April 2011, the Consultative Group on Forced and Child Labor, which was established in the USA in 2009 and made up of officials from the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and State as well as representatives of agricultural enterprises, non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions issued guidelines for a voluntary initiative to enable entities to address issues raised by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This latest initiative, which is not confined to cocoa, would make substantial new requirements of companies to manage their supply chains against child labour
The growth of certification in the chocolate industry has been gathering pace in the past two years. In 2009, Cadbury announced
that it would use the fair trade mark on its Dairy Milk brand (UK’s most popular chocolate). Mars launched Galaxy (the second favourite) with the Rainforest Alliance seal in 2010. Nestlé put the fair trade seal on its four finger Kit Kat and Kraft introduced Côte d’Or with the Rainforest Alliance seal. Many smaller chocolate companies have also put the frog seal on their brands and other plans are in the pipeline.
Not surprisingly, the chocolate companies expect the certification bodies to help them eradicate the worst forms of child labour from their supply chains. So, how realistic is that expectation? If you see the Rainforest Alliance certification seal on a bar of chocolate, is it a guarantee that the cocoa it was made from came from a farm that is free of child labour?
The Rainforest Alliance addresses the problem in three ways. The first is through its Standard. Certified farms are compliant with the criteria of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. This contains a rigorous set of conditions under which minors may or may not work on farms, including prohibiting forced child labour and unsafe work by minors. In 2011, these criteria were evaluated against the ILO conventions governing labour rights by an independent expert. Dorianne Beyer, who undertook the study, is a labour rights lawyer, a founding member of the Advisory Board for Social Accountability International, whose Standard SA8000 is recognized as the world’s most advanced standard in ensuring rights and benefits to workers, and a founding member of the Consultative Group formed in USA in 2009. Her report, which is published on the web site of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)- http://sanstandards.org/sitio/– states that: “the fundamental ILO Conventions are substantially covered by the SAN standard. Additionally, SAN auditors are trained to determine – through interviews with workers, direct observation, review of farm-management records, and other techniques – whether or not a farm provides workers with the rights and benefits they are afforded under ILO conventions, national laws and the SAN standard”.
Second, the auditing and certification process incorporates visits to each certified farm, so that actual inspection of labour practices takes place. Because certification is applied at a group level, with hundreds of farms belonging to the group, there is a lot of peer pressure throughout the year to ensure that no farm introduces child labour.
Finally, the Rainforest Alliance has an extensive training program to educate and sensitize farmers in the criteria of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and this includes discussion of sending children to school. Very few farming families want to risk their children’s health or deprive them of an education. What has kept children at risk are poverty and lack of education, which lead farmers to make decisions that are not in their children’s best interests. By raising awareness in the communities about the rights and needs of their children and by having trained auditors checking that the children are in school and not working in illegal or unsafe conditions on the farm, the Rainforest Alliance certification system provides a lot of assurance that a chocolate company’s supply chain is free from child labour. No system will provide a guarantee: auditors are not at the farms every day; but a Rainforest Alliance seal on a chocolate bar tells a consumer that an education and training program is taking place where the cocoa was bought and that the manufacturer is committed to a real effort to buy cocoa that is grown and traded with under social conditions that respect the rights of children as enshrined in international and national law.