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Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire asked to rebut cocoa slavery slur

Local Cocoa Farmers 86 A photo of cocoa farmers working

Wed, 4 Aug 2021 Source: business24.com.gh

Nico Roozen, honorary President of Solidaridad Network, has made a strong call to the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to take urgent steps to mend the reputational damage that has arisen from the deliberate anti-slavery marketing approach used by chocolate manufacturers in Europe.

He made the call when he led a roundtable discussion on recent cocoa developments in Europe and their implications for sustainable market access in West Africa.

The event, which saw the participation of key leaders and practitioners in the cocoa sector from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, was held on the back of concerns about human rights, environmental degradation and governance issues that relate to cocoa production in West Africa, which have prompted the European Commission to be at the forefront of a decisive response.

These developments have implications for producer countries, especially Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the leading world producers of the commodity.

Reputational damage owing to slavery framing

At the roundtable, which saw more than 100 participants connecting physically and virtually, Nico Roozen bemoaned the reputational risk that is emanating from the misunderstanding of realities and calculated misinformation for marketing purposes.

According to him, in the perception of many Western consumers, cocoa from West Africa is increasingly linked to child labour and even to what has been labelled “slavery”, just as palm oil is linked to deforestation.

He cited the slavery framing by Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch confectionery company, that deliberately trumpets 100 percent slave-free chocolate on its packaging, featuring a brand logo with the “broken chain” of historic slavery.

He added that there is no evidence of slavery in West Africa’s cocoa sector.

“Tony’s Chocolonely’s argumentation on the slavery slants takes undue advantage of some reported incidence of child labour to serve its marketing interest, as this has seen the confectionery maker expand its business all over Europe, North America and even to Japan. Sadly, other brands are following this bad example of stigmatising cocoa produced in West Africa.”

Child labour or child work?

Mr. Roozen further observed that a data-based consensus is emerging that 97 percent of occurrences of child labour are linked to children who are delivering services to their parents at a family farm or as tenant farmers, and this could better be understood as child work and not child labour.

He argued that the classical definition of child labour, which takes into account a labour condition that destroys the future of the child, is rare in the sub-region, as child work that takes place in family farms does not compromise children’s schoolgoing or affect their health and wellbeing.

He said available data suggests that school attendance in cocoa-growing communities has increased, citing Ghana’s implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) as having achieved approximately 96 percent coverage.

Farmer perspectives first

Mr. Roozen said it is inappropriate to frame farmers who seek to socialise, educate and pass on farming knowledge to their children through training as slaveholders.

He shared an anecdote of a seventeen-year-old who took to spraying agrochemicals in his father’s farm.

“The boy said, ‘I can read and understand the instructions on the container label, but my father cannot. Besides, I could support the family business with my strength and learn invaluable lessons by working with my father.’”

“These perspectives of farmers are not cited as selected stories to prove a thesis, but they are colouring data-based findings of child work in family farms,” Roozen added.

Only an economic lens will bring solutions

Making suggestions for dealing with the issue of child work, Roozen asked rhetorically, “who else will do the work children are doing now?”

He argued that solving child work is about economics.

“If the farmer could afford hired labour that offers a decent workplace to an adult worker, that would have been his preference. But hired labour is too expensive in many cocoa-growing areas in Ghana, where artisanal mining tends to compete for labour and pays a higher daily return on labour than agriculture. Besides, statutory set minimum wages by national governments are often higher than what the cocoa farmer can afford given the total farmer income,” he said.

Source: business24.com.gh
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