Ghana Child labour
Image Credit: Fortune
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My interest has been kindled somewhat to victims of child-labour situations in various industries.  Having worked with children for the past 15 years, and seeing them develop from single-digit ages into adulthood, it is an appropriate time to delve into the subject of child labour and how it affects the development of the child into adulthood. 

Particular attention has been drawn however to child labour in the cocoa industry in Ghana.  Why the cocoa industry?  With the country’s ranking as a top world supplier of cocoa, second only to the Ivory Coast, the commodity is a major contributor to Ghana’s foreign exchange earnings and GDP. The entire nation’s economy depends on earnings from cocoa, which is usually in the region of USD2billion annually.   

Year upon year, cocoa contributes massively to the economy and livelihoods of several individuals and families in Ghana.  Until the discovery of oil, Cocoa remained the number one foreign exchange earner to the country. In fact, whilst oil companies repatriate millions of US Dollars out of the country putting pressure on the Cedi and therefore the economy, cocoa’s influence is opposite.  The country actually looks forward to receiving the syndicated loans to ease the pressure of foreign currencies on the Cedi.

Secondly, cocoa’s earnings to the country trickle down into the pockets of families who derive direct micro-economic benefits from them.  Growing up as a child in Ghana, I have seen a number of beneficial outcomes of the cocoa Industry to families and especially children.  It would therefore amount to unprecedented shame if the same cocoa seems to be hurting some children elsewhere by way of child labour. 

To name some benefits of cocoa industry to children, I refer particularly to the huge super structures in city centres notably Kumasi, Sunyani and the entire Bono, Bono East and Ahafo regions, Takoradi and some parts of Accra.  The super structure apartments accommodate between 15 to 30 families, and were mostly built with proceeds of cocoa farmers. The structures have consistently provided accommodation for families, with one structure typically housing an average of 40 to 45 children with their parents.  From the turn of the 20th Century till date, most Ghanaian families have had safe and comfortable abodes to call home as a result of proceeds from Cocoa. 

Not forgetting the Cocoa scholarship scheme, without which many families could not have afforded proper education for their wards. The scheme has supported education for a good number of individuals many of whom are now in prominent positions in the country.  It would be a blatant travesty to see that this same cocoa that provided and still provides hope for children in other parts of the country, in possibly urban and sub-urban areas, is also harming children in other parts, most likely in the rural areas. 

It is a clear case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. If it is indeed the case, how can the ‘robbed Peter” get their fair share of the treasure. How can the menace of Child Labour on cocoa farms, as asserted, be curtailed to enable children in rural Ghana to also reap the utmost benefits of the proceeds of cocoa in terms of education, health, and general welfare? 

Overview of Child Labour- Discussions in Ghana’s Cocoa Industry

The subject has been a thorny issue in the history of cocoa cultivation in the country. It gained traction in the year 2000 following a TV documentary aired by BBC which brought to light the supposed practice of Child labour on farms in West Africa. Following that, several international initiatives have been undertaken by foreign and local stakeholders with the aim to prohibit any such happenings. Follow-up documentaries, research, and reports by international development agencies have done same, all aimed at curbing the menace in West Africa.

Further awareness of this malpractice is continuously been created by international bodies, governments and other stakeholders in West Africa. International Agencies such as World Cocoa Foundation, Solidaridad, etc have added their voice to the call, educating cocoa associations and chocolate consumers of implications of consuming cocoa and chocolates from sources that practice child labour. The aim basically is to ensure the consumption of chocolates in the cleanest and most ethical conditions. 

It is however debatable as to whether the several initiatives and eventual recommendations have birthed meaningful solutions that are realistic considering societal peculiarities in the West African sub region.    

A recent report by Thomson Reuters concluded that increasing prices paid to “impoverished farmers” by 50% could end child labour in Ghana (www. /www.voanews.com/a/ghana-cocoa-child-labor). This stems from the argument that with farmers having more monies in their pockets, they can afford to hire proper farm hands instead of using children. My question is will societal trends and behaviourial patterns of rural cocoa farming support such recommendation?

Another research based recommendation from the food Empowerment Project (foodispower.org) has simply drawn the conclusion that Cocoa processing companies should completely boycott the sourcing of the raw material from West Africa because of child labour allegations. I personally find this recommendation an easy-way-out of tackling the issue at hand and which may not achieve the desired end, as this region currently produces 60% of the entire world cocoa. Are world cocoa processors going to resort to synthetic forms of the raw material to bridge the gap?  Also such an action may only kill the cocoa industry, but child labour would migrate to another sector or industry.  Therefore if the intention is to curb child labour, that would have failed as it would have only changed shape in another industry.  

Views from Afar

My exploration on the subject is based on a single question. In terms of the child labour assertions, has the industry and ancillary functionaries adequately covered all perspectives on the subject? Have they taken the full view of dynamics of historic and socio-cultural aspects of the typical African family? Has cultural considerations and societal trends in the West Africa sub region been taken into consideration?

Typical Rural Setting where Ghana’s Cocoa is cultivated. Credit: Sustainable Food Lab

It may be noted that, child development in this context may not be fully understood by the ‘views from afar’.  Firstly, the child is developed under this context to be fully protected, fully provided for, educated if there is the opportunity, and left an inheritance which inadvertently would be the cocoa farms.  However, there are definitely grave and teething problems with educating rural children in West Africa.   

According to Unicef, only one in four children in the region has access to early childhood learning, care, and stimulation and that obviously includes children in the cocoa regions.  The African child on the cocoa farm is faced with several challenges that make child labour issue on the cocoa farms an effect from a myriad of causes. 

Ghanaian farmers over the years have realised the need to educate their children including the girl child. They have seen sons and daughters of older farmers getting educated and returning home as valuable citizens.  Farmers are passionate about educating and developing their children!  

There are several reasons why children would land on cocoa farms to work instead of going to school.  The industry ought to understand these causes better than it does now.  It is just not enough to label every child working on cocoa farm as child labour/slavery/trafficking case.  Indeed some of the documentaries and reports on the subject appear over-exaggerated and devoid of practical solutions to bring the best out of that child on the cocoa farm.

Agreeably there are noted inappropriate practices with child labour on cocoa farms which need pragmatic and sustained actions to deal with them. However, in dealing with the matter, a more expansive multi-faceted approach is required in analysing the problem to be able to arrive at more focused and holistic solutions. 

The world is proud of Floyd Mayweather as an undefeated boxing champion.  His father introduced him to boxing at 7 years (www.biography.com), Venus Williams and Serena Williams were introduced to tennis at ages 4 and 3 respectively (www.biography.com) and had to endure difficult development regimes to be where they are.  Did the world see that as child labour? 

Productivity Trends and Succession

Ghana has shown some irregular production trends in the last six years.

Statista.com

This shows a significant decline of productivity due to reasons such as low cocoa prices, and changes in government policies that did not go well with the sector e.g. removal of subsidies. The productivity is further threatened by succession issues.  The rural-urban migration is biting quite hard on human resources for the cultivation value chain.  A report cites the average age of the Ghanaian cocoa farmer to be 55 years (www.ft.com).

It is believed that the industry could bring up initiatives to help curb such trends as rural-urban migration. Farmers and their children need proper education and other well researched remedies to give the rural child or better still the child in the cocoa growing area similar opportunities to that of the urban child.  If this subject of children on the cocoa farm is well understood and managed it could as well solve the succession problem in the next 15-20 years.  

It is our aim to unravel the situation as it is, to craft appropriate remedies taking every perspective of the cocoa farmer into consideration and to make every stakeholder derive benefits worth their while. This discussion has only begun and we envisage delving into the matter and taking all perspectives into consideration.

Our ensuing reports would attempt to present insights into the subject and to tell the story of the presence of children as farm hands on Cocoa Farms in Ghana, for exactly what it is. Attempts would also be made to submit practicable and workable recommendations to correct errors that are unearthed, and to serve as a source of information for regulators, buyers, manufacturers and ultimately consumers all over the world to eat chocolate in comfort and absolute peace of mind. 

Author
Amma Adjeiwaa Antwi

Amma is a management consultant with M-DoZ Consulting based in Ghana. She has 15 years of industry and consulting experience. Beginning her career with an investment company in the UK, she has since served companies in various industries in the area of strategic planning, human resource development, business development, risk management, policy analysis and industry research. contact her via email on amma.antwi@ghanatalksbusiness.com