A new program is launching today to support Fairtrade-certified Ivorian and Ghanaian cocoa cooperatives to strengthen prevention and remediation of child labor and forced labor, according to a joint announcement by Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Africa.

With the incidence of child labor having increased in the past decade—involving more than 1.5 million children aged five to 17 working on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, according to a 2020 report—a change in approach is urgently needed.

The new initiative, known as the Fairtrade Child Labour and Forced Labour Prevention and Remediation Program, will disburse funds to successful Fairtrade certified applicants for initiatives that focus on essential but often underfunded elements of strengthening children's rights and ending harmful practices.

“There has been a great deal of attention paid to monitoring and finding child labor cases in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana especially, which is necessary but not sufficient to really get at the root of the problem,” said Edward Akapire, director of Fairtrade Africa’s West Africa Network. “With this new program, Fairtrade aims to support producer organizations to invest in prevention—such as improving education—as well as remediation of detected cases, which means connecting children and families with resources so that they can thrive, rather than driving harmful practices further underground.”

The Fairtrade Standards prohibit exploitative child labor, and compliance is regularly monitored on site by the certifier FLOCERT. Still, no certification system can provide a 100 percent guarantee that a product is free of child labor. In addition, while many cooperatives now have a monitoring and remediation system in place, they may lack the resources to tackle more expensive prevention and remediation measures.

The program is being launched with €450,000 from Fairtrade Germany, Fairtrade Austria, and Fairtrade Max Havelaar Switzerland and other Fairtrade organizations, and will be expanded with additional contributions.

In this way, the program also provides an avenue for cocoa exporters, importers, manufacturers, brands, and retailers in Fairtrade cocoa supply chains to support producer organizations to address and remediate child labor and forced labor, which is a new requirement in the Fairtrade Standard for Cocoa.

Taking effect on July 1, the requirement applies to supply chains that originate in high-risk regions, including Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Companies that buy cocoa on mass balance terms, meaning the cocoa can be mixed after it is exported and future buyers don’t know the specific cooperative that produced it, can contribute to the program to fulfil the Fairtrade Standards support requirement.

Prevention activities such as improving access to quality education for children, and income generating activities that address household poverty, are potential areas the cocoa cooperatives might seek to address. Innovative project ideas based on cooperatives’ experiences and priorities are also an important aspect of the program’s funding criteria.

Fairtrade expects the program to finance approximately 10 proposals in the first year. Rigorous monitoring and evaluation to assess the effectiveness of interventions and to share lessons learned will be part of all funded projects. A management committee will provide expertise and the latest knowledge on best practices. The committee includes Matthias Lange, executive director of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an organization dedicated to eliminating child labor in the cocoa sector and a key project collaborator.

“We recognize that the program cannot cover all the needs for investment in prevention and remediation activities,” emphasized Jon Walker, senior cocoa advisor for Fairtrade International. “However, it will help some cooperatives to fund projects that they consider most urgent on the way to eliminating child and forced labor, and providing valuable learnings for possible scale-up. With the combination of this program and the requirement for all supply chain actors to support cooperatives, we know we can accelerate positive change that benefits everyone.”

Fairtrade certified cocoa producer organizations in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire can find more information about the program and the application process at the Fairtrade Africa website. Traders who want more information on contributing to the fund can contact their local National Fairtrade Organisation.