Schooling with machetes: Slashing Ghana's GDP with child labour

Child Labour On Cocoa File photo

Tue, 26 Apr 2022 Source: Elorm Hermann

All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities. Basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all.

No, those two emphatic sentences are not mine. They are the stipulations of the constitution of the Republic of Ghana.

Notwithstanding their unambiguousness, the reality however is, some children, as young as 10 years, allegedly only have access to thick cocoa plantations and long machetes, sadly.

According to The Guardian’s 3 April 2022’s publication: “Cadbury faces fresh accusation of child labour on cocoa farms in Ghana,” child labour on Ghana’s cocoa farms is unfortunately, increasing.

In place of opening books and learning how to write with pens, “the daughter of one farmer said she had sliced her foot open while using a long machete,” the report revealed. This is the case of several other children who are denied access to basic education.

Cocoa is one of Ghana’s most valued export products together with gold. Being the second largest producer in the world, cocoa has been a major contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years. In spite of its contribution to the country’s economy, several reports and researches show a prevalence rate of child labour in our cocoa value chain.

For instance, a 2020 research report by the University of Chicago’s social research group, NORC, found that a whopping 1.56 (an early version stated 2.1 million) children were involved in the cocoa industry in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire alone.

Meanwhile, the laws of Ghana made it illegal for children under 13 to work on cocoa farms. It is also unlawful for anyone under 18 years to be involved in any form of hazardous labour.

Child labour on cocoa farms across Africa and other cocoa producing continents is, admittedly, a menace that has existed for several decades now. Efforts have been made over the years to combat and eliminate this hazard.

In 2001, some large chocolate manufacturers pledged, through the Harkin-Engel Protocol, to end the worst forms of child labour in their cocoa suppliers chain in four years. They did not only miss the 2005 deadline, they went on to miss the 2008 and the 2010 deadlines as well. Having missed these deadlines, the industry scaled down its goal to reducing child labour by 70% in 2020. Sadly, by the end of 2020, it is believed child trafficking and labour had rather increased.

While the key industry players (who seem to be benefiting enormously from it) appear to be playing only lip service and taking little actions to address child trafficking and labour, international organizations such as Freedom United and Slave Free Chocolate are intensifying campaigns and their efforts against child labour in the cocoa supply chain.

Aside other measures and campaigns, these organizations are fighting for certification of cocoa farms and cocoa products (such as chocolate) by independent bodies.

Whilst a certified farm implies that no form of child labour is used in their farming activities, certified labels on cocoa products implies consumers expect that farmers earned decent living and were paid fairly for their produce, and practices such as child labour and deforestation were not present in their operations. Any violation of these protocols will mean consumers will desist from patronizing such uncertified cocoa products.

The implication of this is that, the revenue of these companies will be reduced and they will, as a result, be forced to source their cocoa from only certified farms. Their response will lead to a cut in the revenue of farmers who lack the certification since these companies will not be motivated to source from them.

The farmers therefore, will also be forced to eliminate any form of child trafficking and labour in their operations, leading to the total elimination or reduction in the worst forms of child labour of cocoa farms.

These organizations continue to intensify their efforts in discouraging consumers from patronizing any cocoa products that lack certified labels.

Food Empowerment Project’s chocolate list is one of such attempts to encourage consumers to be sure when they buy chocolate, they are not supporting companies that source their cocoa from areas where the worst forms of child labour is widespread and they are encouraging consumers not to purchase chocolate that is sourced from Western Africa and Brazil due to evidence of the use of child labour.

According to another report, Fair Trade certification process has also suspended several Western African suppliers due to same evidence of child labour.

What is the collective consequence of these campaigns and measures on Ghana and other cocoa producing nations in Africa? The contribution of the cocoa industry to Ghana’s economy is very significant.

The industry is believed to have employed some 800,000 farm families and generating $2 billion annually through foreign exchange of export crops. www.statista.com reveals that, “the agricultural product (cocoa) was expected to account for 2.82 billion GHS of the country’s GDP.”

The value in 2021 was 2.25 billion GHS, according to the same website. As a major contributor to Ghana’s GDP, any action that will make Ghana’s cocoa unappealing to the international markets and reduce the overall production of our cocoa will inversely affect the country’s already tripping economy.

Unless the government proactively rise to the occasion and combat these allegations of child trafficking and worst forms of child labour on our cocoa plantations, Ghana will gradually lose its share of the market if the efforts of these international organizations become fully incorporated. Government cannot afford to sit and do nothing while these organizations continue to intensify their campaigns against child labour.

Even if Ghana’s outlook on the international cocoa market is still intact, we cannot deny the fact that child labour on our cocoa plantations is real. It is government’s responsibility to ensure basic education remains compulsory and available to every child.

We cannot afford to sit and watch the future of these children waste away. Aside missing out on education, these children are exposed to dangerous agricultural chemicals and get themselves injured as a result of their works on these cocoa farms.

At the core of child labour is farmer poverty. Most cocoa farmers earn meager amounts and to remain competitive, they resort to child labour. If the farmers are paid well, they can recruit the services of the right labour.

Since the cocoa sector is highly regulated by government through the Ghana Cocoa Board, government must therefore regulate the sector well to escalate production levels as well as increase returns to local farmers. The minimum prices that are paid to farmers for their cocoa should be reviewed and increased to reflect current economic realities.

Relevant state institutions and civic societies must collaborate to educate farmers on the menace of child labour and dialogue with them on how best to curtail it. Cocoa cooperative must be formed and owned by the farmers themselves and not just a group of people put together by buying agents or the chocolate companies themselves. This will ensure the grievances of the farmers themselves are communicated and fought for.

Government must put remediation measures in place as well as situate stringent systems to monitor child trafficking and labour on cocoa plantations and punish perpetrators accordingly. The Cocobod scholarship must be awarded to only children of cocoa farmers and not children, friends or relatives of politicians.

Government must collaborate with independent bodies such as the Freedom United and Slave Free Chocolate to expose industry giants engaging in or promoting child labour.

If we continue to give machetes to these children instead of pens, if we continue to educate them on the farmland instead of classrooms, we risk slashing the revenue we generate from the cocoa industry gravely.

Not just that. Unless child trafficking and labour on our cocoa plantations are eliminated, anytime we brag about being the second largest producer of cocoa in the world, we must remember that we are boasting in our failure as a nation and benefiting from the sweats, tears and unlivable conditions of guiltless children – anytime you use any of the cocoa products or eat a bar of chocolate, you must be evoked that you are equally eating away the future of these innocent children together with our nation’s GDP.

Every child deserves a better life. It’s our collective responsibility – yours and mine – to ensure this.

There is a Hero in you; unleash it!

Columnist: Elorm Hermann
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