An estimated 1.56 million children are in child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Studies show that most of the children who work on cocoa farms do so within their household or extended family.
Child labour is a complex issue. The vast majority of cocoa in West Africa is grown by smallholder farmers. Households in cocoa-growing areas face the realities of rural poverty such as a scarcity of land, food insecurity, limited access to quality education, lack of access to drinking water and inadequate health services. Studies shows that most of the children who work on cocoa farms do so within their immediate or extended family. Not all of this is child labour. However, when such work harms a child’s health, development, or education it is unacceptable according to internationally agreed conventions. This can have negative impacts on future generations and as such we consider child labour as both a symptom and a contributing factor to the cycle of poverty.
Beyond these situations, other exploitative practices also exist. Forced child labour is a risk that is present in the cocoa supply chain, though it tends to be much less common. When children, even with their consent, are taken from their families to be exploited in cocoa farming this constitutes human trafficking. (See below for a more detailed definition of child labour and other forms of exploitation).
What is child labour?
Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development”. (ILO Conventions 138 and 182 refer to child labour.)
Not all work done by children is classified as child labour. For instance, children carrying out light, non-hazardous tasks on the family farm for a limited period of time, under supervision, and without compromising their schooling, is considered as acceptable child work.
This type of work is often necessary for the welfare of many families. It also contributes to children’s development, providing them with skills and experience that help them prepare for their adult farming life.
However, when activities are hazardous, such as carrying heavy loads or using sharp tools, working too many hours, or the work interferes with a child’s schooling, this is considered child labour and is not allowed.
Both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have a list of hazardous tasks that children are not allowed to do, as well as age-specific limits to the number of hours a child is allowed to work. View our comparative analysis of child labour decrees in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Child trafficking and forced labour are distinct from child labour and are extreme forms of child exploitation. Child trafficking involves taking a child out of their protective environment, across borders or within a country, with the purpose of exploiting them. Forced child labour is considered as work that is conducted because of a penalty, or the threat of one, from someone other than the parent. Forced child labour can also occur if the parent themself is in forced labour. Learn more about forced labour.
Child labour and seasonality
Children in cocoa-growing areas are at greater risk of child labour at different times of the year, in line with the fluctuating need for labour across the seasons. Children may be called upon to work more often at specific times of the year, such as during the harvest. School holidays, when children have more free time, are also notable periods when identified cases of child labour tend to be higher. These insights are crucial when developing solutions as it can support both the targeting of interventions and protective monitoring during times of the year when children are at greater risk.
We believe that these complex problems can be effectively tackled through the collective, coordinated and consistent efforts of all parties involved, directly or indirectly, in the cocoa supply-chain.