Updated on May 8, 2020
In 2019 more than 1300 companies sourced UTZ certified coffee, cocoa or tea and sold it in 144 consuming countries. The UTZ label stands for better opportunities for farmers and their families. This means we work on complex issues like climate change, a living wage for workers and prevention of child labor. A valid question we get from companies is if the UTZ label on your product guarantees a child labor free product. Siriki Diakité, who leads our work with more than 420,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, explains why guarantees are impossible – but that the UTZ program is leading efforts to eradicate child labor.
Child labor still happens
Nobody wants to imagine that a child might have suffered to make the products they enjoy, but unfortunately child labor is still far too common. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), over 152 million children worldwide are engaged in child labor, the majority in the agricultural sector. Although child labor is also an issue in the coffee, tea and hazelnut sector, the situation is particularly serious in the cocoa industry. According to the Cocoabarometer 2018, it is estimated that 2.1 million children are working in cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. Why does it happen? Siriki explains: “Cocoa farming is a tough job and farmers don’t earn much, so families often feel they need the extra labor on their farms. They might ask their own children to help or find cheap labor elsewhere, which could include children who have been trafficked for labor, sometimes ending up in situations of forced labor.”
Children under 12 should never work
Prohibiting child labor is at the very core of the UTZ program. “The rules of the UTZ program are clear,” says Siriki. “No child under the age of 12 should be working at all. Depending on the country older children can help out with light work that is appropriate to their age, and as long as it doesn’t interfere with their schooling or expose them to hazardous conditions.”
Going beyond sanctions to stop child labor
All you have to do is stop children from working on UTZ certified farms, or kick those farms out of the UTZ program, right? Wrong. “To really tackle child labor we must do much more,” says Siriki. “If we just stop the child working on a cocoa farm child labor will end up being hidden, or we’ll see the child moving to the rubber farm next door, or to a nearby factory.”
That’s why our approach combines prevention, monitoring and remediation – going beyond sanctions and forming partnerships with other initiatives to find real solutions.
Creating better livelihoods
One of the most effective ways to prevent child labor is by addressing the root cause: poverty. “Many farmers earn barely enough to live on, to support their family or send their children to school,” explains Siriki. “Therefore, improving farmers’ incomes through higher productivity can go a long way towards tackling child labor. That’s where the UTZ program comes in. The training farmers receive really enables them to increase their profits.”
Awareness is key
UTZ certified farmers are regularly audited, but no system can monitor every farm 24 hours a day, 365 days a year or guarantee that there will never be a case of child labor. Therefore, it’s vital that efforts to tackle child labor are led from within the community. “Farmers are trained about child labor: what is permitted and what isn’t, and the importance of kids getting an education,” adds Siriki. “This is really important, as many farmers worked themselves when they were children, so they aren’t aware of the alternatives.” “On top of that, farmer groups must carry out a risk assessment to evaluate the situation within the community. Where there is a risk of child labor they must appoint a ‘child labor liaison officer’; a person from the local community who is responsible for building relationships, raising awareness and dealing with any cases that arise.”
Getting children into school
And if child labor is found, how should it be dealt with? “The first priority is to stop the child from working. Then, measures have to be taken to get the child into school.” “How to do this depends on the situation. It can be as simple as helping a family to get hold of a copy of the child’s birth certificate, or get the school uniform or books, which can be required before the child can go to school.” “In other cases, it could be about asking the local government to provide more schools in the area. If children’s protection is at stake or trafficking or forced labor is found, the local authorities are immediately informed to ensure the child receives adequate protection and those responsible are brought to justice.” And if the problem persists? “Our system allows for strong sanctions when necessary. If a farmer does not improve their practices, they will have to leave the UTZ program, and cannot sell their harvest as UTZ certified.”
Bringing together a powerful coalition
Although the UTZ label never guarantees a 100% child labor free product, sourcing UTZ certified products is a huge step in helping us tackle the issue. The more companies join our vision of a cocoa sector free of child labor, the more farmers and children will benefit. But fully eradicating child labor continues to be a huge challenge. “We’re talking about an incredibly complex situation – we need to see better infrastructure, improved health and education services, cultural changes, and ongoing commitment from governments and companies,” says Siriki. That’s why through the Sector Partnerships Program we build on the strong foundations of certification, empowering farmers and civil society to push for change on a structural level within the cocoa sector. “Stopping child labor for good will take a lot of hard work together with all our partners, but every day, I see positive change as a result of the UTZ program,” concludes Siriki.
Dive deeper into the topic
Want to know more about our work on eliminating child labor? Check out our marketing communication toolkit specifically on the topic of child labor. There you will find a link to our webinar on the topic as well as the position paper, farmer testimonials, infographics and more.