Today, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) launches its 2020 annual report. Last year marked the end of ICI’s 2015-2020 strategy, during which the organization’s work with its partners reached over 422,000 children in cocoa-growing communities. With the launch of a new strategy for 2021-2026, which aims to drive the scale-up of action across the entire cocoa supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, ICI is seeking to build upon the lessons learned and progress made over the past five years, to reach all children at risk by 2025.

2020 saw the publication of the latest study on child labour in cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC), estimating that 1.56 million children are engaged in child labour in the cocoa sectors of these countries. The year was also marked by the Covid-19 pandemic which severely impacted farming communities and the cocoa sector’s sustainability operations. Despite the challenges encountered, ICI’s 2020 Annual Report shows that there is solid evidence of progress and impact. Now is the time to build on this and take those proven activities to scale.

Reviewing the impact of ICI’s 2015-2020 strategy

ICI’s annual report explores the impact of its 2015-2020 strategy, highlighting that by the end of 2020 over 422,000 children had been positively impacted by its direct implementation work, surpassing the original target of 375,000 children. The lives of these children were improved through a combination of child-centered community development work and Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), implemented with ICI’s members and partners. Over the course of the strategy, these systems have proven their effectiveness at reducing child labour in cocoa-growing areas, findings which were corroborated by a sub-study conducted by NORC in 2020 that documented a 30% reduction in child labour in communities where industry-backed child protection interventions have been in place for three years or more.

In addition, a recent external evaluation of ICI’s Advocacy work confirms ICI’s credibility and impact as an influential technical expert over the 2015-2020 period. It underlines the importance of ICI’s operational experience in enabling the organization to help align standards and approaches within the sector, to develop a common language and definitions relating to the challenge, and to catalyze the upscaling of defined good practices. The evaluation will be available later in 2021.

However, many challenges still persist and have in turn been seriously exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We emerge from this strategic period with a keen awareness of the need for greater alignment, increased engagement and investment from all actors within the sector, and greater transparency and accountability from all stakeholders. The last five years have also revealed that there are real, if localized, risks of forced labour in the cocoa supply chain that need to be addressed, that we must deepen our understanding of the underlying root causes of both forced labour and child labour, and that we must continue innovating in search of new solutions to these problems.

Towards the scale-up of action across the West African cocoa supply chain

ICI’s 2021-2026 Strategy will help address the continuing challenges facing the cocoa sector and drive the scale up of effective systems that prevent and address child labour and the risk of forced labour to cover 100% of the cocoa supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025. As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, this new strategic cycle has already been launched with a pledge from ICI and its members to scale-up child protection systems to cover 540,000 cocoa-growing households in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by the end of 2021, representing an estimated 30% of the cocoa supply chain in those countries.

ICI’s annual report underlines the necessity of this scale up and highlights the importance of innovation and learning for the journey ahead. It explains the work ICI is currently undertaking to understand child labour risk at community and household level so as to better target remediation efforts where they are needed most; to test and assess the impact of cash transfers as a form of child labour remediation; and to develop tools for the cocoa sector to address the risks of forced labour.

“What we have learned over the past five years has directly fed and fuelled our new strategy. We have seen that interventions are working and we have seen real change for children and their families on the ground, where those interventions are implemented. But with the sobering findings from the 2020 NORC report and the disruptive potential of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, the need for greater action is paramount” said Nick Weatherill, ICI’s Executive Director.

“We are launching this annual report in the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, a pivotal opportunity to build momentum and ramp up the fight against child labour at a time when ongoing discussions around human rights due diligence are adding impetus and urgency to the expansion of accountable action. The results highlighted in this report and the roadmap set out in our new strategy demonstrate that we are on the right track, and represent a critically important call for action to be scaled up across the entire cocoa supply chain.”

Read ICI’s 2020 annual report here.

Read a blog post from Nick Weatherill, ICI’s Executive Director.