Slavery in the Chocolate Industry

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The Cocoa Industry and Child Labour*
Elliot J. Schrage
Council on Foreign Relations, USA

Anthony P. Ewing
Columbia University, USA

Reports of forced child labour on the cocoa farms of Côte d’Ivoire surfaced in 2000 and quickly became an important business issue for a number of prominent companies. Media coverage and the threat of regulatory action mobilised the international cocoa industry to collaborate with other stakeholders to eliminate the worst forms of child labour from cocoa production. The international cocoa industry moved from a refusal to acknowledge serious labour problems in the global cocoa supply chain, to acknowledgement, and a public commitment to act to address the problems. The experience of the cocoa industry provides a number of lessons for executives, advocates and policy-makers seeking to promote labour standards. Industry participants sought the participation of multiple stakeholders, defined standards by referencing international law, and sought reliable information from the field. This case also demonstrates that pressure on consumer brands, strategic government intervention and geographic concentration facilitates collaborative action. Elliot J. Schrage is a lawyer and business adviser. He is currently Adjunct Professor at Columbia’s Business and Law Schools and Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow in Business and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He previously served as Senior Vice President for Global Affairs at Gap, Inc.

G Cocoa G Child labour G Forced labour G Côte d’Ivoire G Human rights G Cocoa Industry Protocol G International Cocoa Initiative

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2741 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

Anthony P. Ewing is a lawyer and management consultant based in New York. He is a lecturer in law at Columbia University, where he co-teaches the graduate seminar, ‘Transnational Business and Human Rights’.

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451 Walton Road, Maplewood, NJ 07040, USA

* Original research for this paper was supported by a grant from the United States Department of State under the auspices of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. An earlier version of this paper was published as a case study in Schrage 2004: 131.

JCC 18 Summer 2005




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elliot j. schrage and anthony p. ewing


eports of slave labour on cocoa farms surfaced as early as 1998, when an Ivorian newspaper reported the widespread practice of importing and indenturing Malian boys for fieldwork on Ivorian plantations (USDOS 1999). The United States Department of State reported an initial estimate of 15,000 Malian children working on Ivorian cocoa and coffee plantations (USDOS 2001). The child workers, many of whom were under 12 years of age, were sold into indentured servitude for US$140 and worked 12 hour days for US$135 to 189 per year. Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading cocoa producer, typically supplying more than 40% of the cocoa consumed worldwide. In 2001, Côte d’Ivoire exported 1.4 million tons of cocoa beans.1 Cocoa production employed more than 7 million people on 450,000 Ivorian cocoa farms, and cocoa exports accounted for a third of the country’s export earnings. Unlike the European and North American markets that consume most of the cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire and its neighbours rank among the world’s least developed countries.2 Average per capita GDP (gross domestic product) for Côte d’Ivoire’s 16 million people is US$1,490. In September 2000, a British television documentary reported that hundreds of thousands of children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo were being purchased from their parents and sold as slaves to cocoa farmers in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. The documentary included claims that slavery existed on as many as 90% of Ivorian cocoa farms. According to subsequent media accounts, children as young as six...
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