Historically, the chocolate industry has been built on child labour, especially in West Africa. Child labour is a complex issue and is more varied than people often assume. Many of the underlying causes are closely tied to structural poverty and gender disparity. For example, although 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa, the income of smallholder cocoa farmers remains below living income benchmarks.
Most child labour on cocoa farms is children supporting their own families due to the struggles of living in poverty, where families have limited resources and an extra pair of hands can make a difference. Families are not always aware of the harms that child labour can cause, nor of the long-term benefits of formal education. Persistent gender inequality also contributes to the ongoing practice.
Cocoa companies face increasing pressure to remediate individual cases of child labour. This creates a focus on short-term, easily quantifiable solutions such as the provision of school kits, birth certificates, and school fees to families – all factors that contribute to low school enrolment. While these initiatives offer some level of assistance, they do not establish the fundamental collaborative efforts necessary to promote enduring community development in the presence of systemic poverty.
The solution is, therefore, a multifaceted and tailor-made approach which addresses child labour in various ways. ETG | Beyond Beans has developed a more bottom-up and community-driven approach, which focuses on promoting income-generating activities, raising awareness of the dangers of child labour, and fostering gender empowerment at the household level.
VSLA-CHILD: Tackling the roots of child labour in cocoa communities
The VSLA-CHILD project is an ETG | Beyond Beans child labour remediation initiative that addresses child labour in cocoa-producing communities through a community-driven approach.
VSLA-CHILD is made up of three core elements that build on each other. The base is the establishment of Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). Through these groups, Gender Action and Learning Systems (GALS) and Child-Household Intervention for Learning & Development (CHILD) learning modules are implemented. Together, these elements are designed to create a bottom-up community-based impact by improving access to finance, empowering women, and addressing the root causes of child labour.
The project seeks to increase the access of farmers to microcredit, improve their savings culture and income diversity, and support farming households to develop self-help measures to protect children and remediate child labour.
Grace is a cocoa farmer from Nyamebekyere, Ahafo Ano, in the South East District of Ghana. In her community, she has been one of the “champions” of a VSLA-CHILD group, receiving training that she brings back to her group members.
“As a VLSA champion, it is my duty to teach my group members to stop using their children for work which is too much for them,” she explains, “The rights of children should be respected.”
Child Labour Monitoring Tool
ETG | Beyond Beans has developed its own Child Labour Monitoring Tool (CLMT), where both child and forced labour indicators were derived from an extensive literature study from existing survey tools and databases.
The CLMT creates profiles of communities, households, farmers, their children and local schools, all of which are integrated into our data-collection platform, Mergdata. This provides insight into the risk of child labour in each community and helps to identify what support is needed to remediate specific instances of child labour.
The tool also combines two different types of sensitisation sessions: one for communities and one for households. These sessions raise awareness of which labour practices are most harmful for children and spark discussion on how families can protect their children and support them in going to school.
Topics covered during child labour awareness sessions include:
- The definition and overview of child labour and child work
- The effect of child labour on children
- The importance of education
- Emphasis on light work
- Difference between hazardous work and light work (with examples)
In all instances of identified child labour, careful monitoring and follow-up surveys are conducted.
“We used to do lots of work when we were young, but when the programme educated us on the types of child work, I realised that giving children a lot of work makes them perform poorly at school. With two years in the VSLA program, I can now support my children with their school materials and the things they need for their well-being.” – Aquah Bentil – VSLA-Child Participant – Ghana
Besides awareness-raising sessions, remediation interventions are tailored to each community and individual situation. This is an active process that ensures the identification, referral, protection, and prevention of child labourers across the community, household, and farmer levels. Today, ETG | Beyond Beans covers more than 50,000 households across Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria.
The VSLA-CHILD programme has the potential to effectively combat child labour in the cocoa sector. By providing access to financial resources and support within communities, families can break free from the cycle of poverty that is the root cause of children working on cocoa farms. Through women’s empowerment and economic stability, we create a pathway which prioritises education and reduces the risk of child labour.