The launch of the International Cocoa Initiative’s 2020 Annual Report during the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour is a powerful moment to take stock of the lessons learned and progress made during our previous 2015-2020 strategy. But more importantly, it is a time to use what we have learned to drive forward the scale up of impactful action that is at the heart of our new strategic ambition, and to build momentum during this pivotal year in the fight against child labour.

2020 was a seismic year for all of us in the cocoa sector and beyond. Dominated by the threats and disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic, the year also saw the publication of the latest USDOL-funded research on child labour in cocoa in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC). This highlighted the scale of the challenge that the cocoa sector still faces and that demands an urgent acceleration of collective efforts over the years ahead. Importantly, however, another study by NORC presented clear evidence that industry-backed initiatives are having a positive impact, reducing child labour by up to one-third over three years, a reduction rate that is five times faster than global rates of reduction in the agriculture sector. This also aligns with our own findings on impact, confirming the effectiveness of those interventions and compelling us to call for their scale up.

Adapting to the new realities of the Covid-19 pandemic required responsiveness, strength and resilience, as it did for so many other organizations. I am proud of the way that we, at ICI, were able to react and adapt to protect our staff and put the safety of the communities we work with first, whilst still maintaining essential services in many areas. We leveraged our monitoring systems to raise awareness of the pandemic and used them to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on child labour and child protection, so that we, and the sector at large, can now better respond to these new and serious challenges.

2020 also marked the conclusion of our 2015-2020 strategy. In spite of 2020’s disruptions, this strategy saw us exceed our goal of directly and positively impacting the lives of 375,000 children, with over 422,000 children reached by the child protection work we have undertaken with our partners. This is an impressive result that we are proud of, and one that we believe is further amplified by the indirect impact we have contributed to through our influence on key stakeholders in the cocoa sector, and which we are in the process of having externally evaluated.

2021-2026: A new ICI Strategy to drive scale up

However, as important as our impact has been, it is clearly not sufficient, on its own, to bring about the goal of eliminating child labour as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s why we were so excited to launch our 2021-2026 strategy. The new strategy aims to support a more enabling environment and drive the scale up of child protection systems that prevent and address child labour and forced labour so that they cover 100% of the cocoa supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025. ICI will continue to work as an operationally grounded catalyst to guide, inspire and influence the entire cocoa sector to greater action, with our innovation and learning processes, our partnerships to build capacity and our efforts to strengthen coordination all playing an ever more vital role in the journey ahead.

With our bold 2025 target keenly in mind, as part of the Alliance 8.7 and the International Labor Organization’s calls to action during the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, we recently submitted a pledge on behalf of ICI’s members to scale up child protection systems to reach 540,000 cocoa-growing households in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by the end of 2021. This would see the coverage of systems that prevent and address child labour increase to 30% of the cocoa supply chain in both countries as an important step towards the 100% coverage we are aiming to catalyse by 2025, with the intention of building momentum as we scale up even further and faster in the years to come.

Crucially for the cocoa sector, calls from all sides for mandatory human rights due diligence, requiring companies to identify, respond to and report on human rights issues in their supply chain, continue to grow louder and drive new regulations in many parts of the world. As we enter the early phases of ICI’s new strategy, we expect that human rights due diligence legislation will be a game-changer in driving forward the responsible and impactful action required, based on transparency and accountability. While these trends will continue to define the legal obligations of different individual actors, the scope and space for organizations like ICI, founded on principles of voluntary, collective and multi-stakeholder action, must also be preserved to ensure that mandatory measures can be translated into operational impact. As such, ICI’s ability to bring the cocoa sector together, to collectively define and refine good practices on the basis of bold innovations, and to provide practical guidance and tools to help companies, governments and civil society put their responsibilities into action in a coordinated way, remains critical. Equally, ensuring that continuous improvement is visible, recognized and incentivized through transparent reporting against credible standards and benchmarks that have been agreed through multistakeholder consultation will be key. Momentum is building and ICI is primed to catalyze the next step of this transformative journey, with the help of our partners and for the sake of the children whose lives we seek to change.

Blog post by Nick Weatherill, Executive Director of the International Cocoa Initiative.

Read ICI’s 2020 Annual Report in full.

Read the press release.