- Cargill has expanded its programs to combat child labor in the cocoa supply chain beyond its initial target of Ivory Coast to Cameroon, Ghana and Indonesia, according to a press release. These are steps toward Cargill's goal of creating child labor monitoring and remediation programs in the five countries where it sources cocoa — Brazil is the fifth. Though this work is ongoing, Taco Terheijden, Cargill's director of sustainability for cocoa and chocolate, told Supply Chain Dive this marks the first time the newer programs have been publicly announced. Cargill launched monitoring and remediation systems in Ivory Coast in 2016, Cameroon and Ghana in September 2019, and Indonesia in April 2020.
- The new programs include working directly with farmers to identify and mitigate risk factors for child labor, training farming community members to survey and collect data related to child labor, and providing training in farming techniques for older children not in school. These efforts are in cooperation with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and Save the Children. Terhejden called it a "holistic way" to address the problem.
- Advocates warn the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate child labor practices because schools are closed to prevent the spread of the virus and monitoring groups are less able to circulate in at-risk communities.
Farms may use free child labor as a "buffer" against negative income shocks stemming from sudden commodity price drops, illness or death in a household, among other causes, according to an ICI study released in April. Coronavirus presents just such a shock, which may be amplified in countries without a governmental social safety net.
ICI Executive Director Nick Weatherill told Reuters the organization has not yet seen evidence of an increase in child labor due to the pandemic, but he believes an uptick is very likely, should current conditions persist.
International organizations differ on the meaning of the phrase "child labor," and some do not include children working for their own families in the definition.
The stakes of child labor mitigation work may be rising for U.S. supply chains, as U.S. authorities have been focused on this issue in recent months. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are now asking cocoa traders for more information about child labor in their supply chains, including GPS coordinates for farms and supplier lists, according to an April report from Reuters.
CBP did not tell Reuters exactly what it plans to do with the information it receives but told the news agency it is able to block imports if child labor is implicated in the supply chain behind them. Cargill told Reuters it has cooperated with CBP's request.
Major chocolate purveyors have received widespread criticism for their lack of effectiveness in ridding their cocoa supply chains of child labor. Agriculture is the industry in which more than 70% of the world's child labor occurs, according to the International Labour Organisation. Across industries, the proliferation of child labor is not improving. A 2019 report from global risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft found next to no progress on the issue globally since 2016.