Nestle has become the first food company to allow the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate whether children are working on cocoa farms supplying its factories as the company said that it would almost certainly be the case.
The agreement will see representatives from the FLA travel to Ivory Coast to examine cocoa farms supplying Nestle starting next year.
The FLA is a collaborative effort of companies, universities, and civil society organisations that are looking to improve working conditions in factories worldwide.
Child labour likely
In a statement released by Nestle, company executive vice president of operations José Lopez said: “We are sure that there are children working in what you call Nestle’s supply chain. In the remote farms and co-operatives life is organised in a very opaque way and the trade in cocoa is not a simple process.”
“There are a number of intermediaries that put me in a position where I cannot say there is not child labour. I might for many years be unable to say something like that.”
Child labour on cocoa farms is an industry-wide issue and not exclusive to Nestle.
Auret van Heerden, president and CEO of the FLA told ConfectioneryNews.com: “Given the extent of child labour in the cocoa sector in Ivory Coast it is inevitable that farms supplying Nestle used child labour.”
“The FLA’s project with Nestle will trace their supply chain, confirm the extent of child labor, and develop remedial strategies to eliminate it,” he said.
The FLA will publish an assessment report along with a corrective action plan from Nestle to address issues that are identified during the investigation.
Results of the FLA’s investigation will be made public in spring 2012.
Complex supply chain
Asked whether confectioners were doing enough to ensure no child labour was happening on cocoa farms they use, van Heerden said: “A lot has been done but the desired outcomes have been elusive. We need new strategies and a renewed effort in order for child labour to be eliminated from global cocoa supply chains.”
According to the latest data from the International Cocoa Initiative, over 50% of children living in agricultural households in Ivory Coast and Ghana work on farms. Between 25-50% of those children work on cocoa farms, this amounts to over 800,000 children working in cocoa-related activities in each country.
“Like any other global supply chain, cocoa’s is extremely complex. In the past, the industry may not have had the tools necessary to map the cocoa supply chains of individual companies and to identify and rank risks,” van Heerden continued.
In September 2001, chocolate and cocoa industry representatives signed the Harkin Engel Protocol designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labour on cocoa farms. Nestle was among those that made the commitment.
Van Heerden said tracing Nestle’s supply chain was a first step and he hoped the food industry would collaborate more to emulate successes in the garment and footwear industries to combat child labour.