The Fairness Gap: Poverty persists among West African cocoa farmers

Young girl mixing cocoa beans.
Credit: ILRF

The problem of forced child labor and human trafficking on West African cocoa farms has been known problem since roughly 2000, when a number of investigative reports came out exposing the severity of this issue. These reports spurred a reaction among policy makers and businesses, though for nearly a decade work to reduce the incidences in labor abuse in the sector seemed fragmented and stalled.

However, in the past four years there are clear signs of progress. Consumer awareness of child labor in the cocoa sector continues to grow, and with it, an ardent demand for chocolate made without child labor. Green America and many allies have helped hundreds of thousands of consumers communicate their concerns about child labor to the largest chocolate manufacturers, and raised awareness of fair trade certified and direct trade chocolate as well.

Companies big and small have responded to this demand.  Smaller fair trade companies like Divine Chocolate and Equal Exchange have been able to expand their markets and their offerings in order to send more money back to the farming communities they work with. Ben and Jerry’s announced that all their ingredients, not just cocoa, would be fair trade by the end of this year, and larger companies like Hershey and Mars have committed to source only certified cocoa by the year two thousand and twenty.

Fairness Gap ReportHow all this progress in the marketplace translates to progress on the ground for farmers is the question that is addressed in a new report out today: The Fairness Gap: Farmer Incomes and Root Cause Solutions to Ending Child Labor in the Cocoa Growing Sector. Also in the report are recommendations for all actors in the sector.

Key report findings include::

  • Many cocoa farming families in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire make around the international poverty line of $2 per day, but with large families, this amounts to roughly 40 cents per person.
  • Low earnings make it difficult for farmers to pay hired laborers to harvest the crop at the legally required minimum wage, fueling the need for child labor and, especially in Côte d’Ivoire, the trafficking of casual workers (including children) from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
  • The majority of cocoa farmers are isolated geographically and must rely on a vast network of middlemen to transport their beans. Farmers also lack price information and negotiating power.
  • The average age of cocoa farmers is increasing as younger people seek alternative means of income. This also increases the need for casual workers, who are even more marginalized.
  • Company efforts to improve working conditions, schools, and supply certification are getting mixed reviews due to a failure to address the underlying poverty problem in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

The full report can be read on the International Labor Rights Forum’s website.

Samsung Handed a Rough Report Card for Worker Health and Safety

Credit: Dan Watch

Recently, Dan Watch and Electronics Watch released Winds of Change, a report which details the harsh working conditions of the electronics manufacturing sector, particularly the problems caused by occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The report compiles all known cases of occupational illness among people who have worked at Samsung since 2006/2007. The total number of illnesses is likely much greater due to the fact that unlike work-related accidents, the symptoms of the illness will present over a long time span, making it difficult to pinpoint the specific time and place where the cause of health deterioration was encountered.

Victims of occupational illness in South Korea

  • 289 South Korean workers in the semiconductor industry who were diagnosed with various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia.
  • 233 of the cancer patients were employed at South Korean Samsung subsidiaries, while the other 56 worked at other electronics manufacturers.
  • 119 have died.
  • 98 of the workers who died have been employed at Samsung subsidiaries.

(Data collected by SHARPS)

In addition to these illnesses, workers have encountered reproductive problems.  One worker profiled, MiYeon Kim, had difficulty getting pregnant and later got cancer and had to have an involuntary abortion because of cancer complications. Kim worked at a Samsung semiconductor plant for 15 years and 2 months.

The report also included the unfortunate, but not uncommon, story of sick employee from Shenzhen, China who was handling toxins without adequate protective equipment. (His suit and mask only protected the product, not the person.) This 21 year old was hospitalized for ten months after being exposed to n-hexane on the job for six to seven months. Within his workshop of 16 people, who made iPhone screen replacements, 5 were poisoned and hospitalized.

Winds of Change is the latest revelation of the severe health and safety risks effecting workers in the electronics manufacturing sector. Beyond health problems, it also sheds light on the the weak or absent ability for workers to organization in this sector.

Read the full report>>

Take action to push Samsung to improve worker health and safety>> 

“Big Chocolate” brings in $83 billion per year. Where does all this money end up?

Cocoa Infographic v3The global chocolate industry commands more than $83 billion annually, but how much of this gets back to the farmers? Since most chocolate on US store shelves comes from West Africa, Green America has been persistently pressuring US cocoa companies to step up and take care of the workers—and child laborers—in their supply chains. This infographic traces the conventional cocoa supply chain in an effort to show where the majority of the money consumers spends ends up when they buy a chocolate product.

Purchasing fair trade chocolate from companies that have more direct relationships with farmers is important, as is ongoing pressure on manufacturers, processors, and traders, to improve the situation for farmers and their families.

Want to take this with you to share with others when you trick-or-treat? Download our 1-page version.

October Means Chocolate. This Year Choose Responsibly.

Trick_o_treatersLast year, Americans collectively spent more than $2 billion on Halloween candy. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates that the average person will spend nearly $80 on Halloween items, including candy, costume, and decorations! What if all this money went to support businesses committed to people and planet, rather than conventional businesses, with little regard for workers’ rights or environmental protection? This year, consider shifting your own candy spending from conventional products to ones that align with your values.  For chocolate, this means choosing brands that have made long-term commitments to the farmers they work with and have taken steps to prevent child labor on cocoa farms. More than 60% of cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, comes from countries in West Africa.  Working on a cocoa farms is hard work, and not very profitable. In fact, most cocoa farmers and their families live in absolute poverty.  Some must result to using inexpensive migrant or child labor to harvest their cocoa.  Tulane University has estimated that 1.8 million children are involved in the production of cocoa. Not all chocolate is made this way though. A few smaller chocolate companies pride themselves on their commitment to the small-holder farmers who provide their cocoa year after year. Divine Chocolate Beatrice Asante KUAPA JAN 2009 016With offices in London and Washington, DC, Divine is the only chocolate company that is both fair trade and farmer-owned.  The Kuapa Kokoo farmer cooperative in Ghana, owns shares in Divine, holds 2 seats on the company board, and plays a key role in business decision making. Divine Chocolate offers both milk chocolate and dark chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, at 10% off until October 20. EqualExchangeEqual Exchange Equal Exchange is a worker-owned business based in Massachusetts. The company’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers. For Halloween, Equal Exchange has put together a number of fair trade-themed resources including e-cards, jack-o-lantern stencils, recipes, and an educational infographic. And, importantly, fair trade chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, on sale this month at the discounted, wholesale price. Every time you spend money you are voting with your dollars. Take our “Chocolate Scorecard” with you this year when grocery shopping to help you chose the best and most responsible Halloween treats. Photo credits: Divine Chocolate USA and Equal Exchange.  

Spotlight on Hershey, 2 Years Later

Have a heart hersheyExactly two years ago, Hershey announced it would source only ethically certified cocoa by 2020. This announcement came after years of pressure on Hershey to prevent child labor on West African cocoa farms from Green America members and our allies Two years later, we’re checking on Hershey’s progress and on how these commitments have impacted cocoa growing communities. But first, a little back story… 2000-2009

Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.
credit: International Labor Rights Forum

In 2001 the world was shocked by stories of horrific forced child labor in West African cocoa growing communities. In response, a “slave-free” label was proposed by US lawmakers. The chocolate industry defeated this proposal and instead signed on to the Harkin-Engel protocol, to voluntarily fix child labor in their supply chains. A decade went by with the industry missing deadline after deadline to stop child labor, as their profits soared. Very little progress was made to prevent child labor among most major chocolate companies. September 2010 Green America and our allies grew tired of waiting for big cocoa to act on its own to fix child labor. We launched our Raise the Bar, Hershey! Campaign, calling out Hershey, the largest US chocolate manufacturer, as a laggard in addressing child labor problems in its supply chain. In 2009, Mars had already committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020.

anti hershey rally
credit: Celery Street Blog

September 2011 With growing consumer awareness and outrage, Green America published “Still Time to Raise the Bar” to keep the pressure on Hershey[1]. The report called out Hershey’s failure to address child labor and other labor abuses in its supply chain (a topic that Hershey failed to mention in its own corporate responsibility report). The report acted as a catalyst for tens of thousands of people to write to Hershey. Consumers and religious allies took part in protests at Hershey stores, and investors called on the company to address child labor as well. January 2012 rainforest alliance hersheys bliss certificateGreen America and our allies planned to run a Super Bowl add targeting Hershey for child labor. In response, Hershey agreed to purchase Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa for its Bliss chocolate products[2] August 2012 Consumer pressure continued to escalate on Hershey, and retailers started putting pressure on the cocoa giant as well. Green America united food coops, specialty retailers, and Whole Foods to voice their concerns regarding child labor in Hershey products. Whole Foods agreed to drop all Hershey products from its stores. October 2012 Hershey announced it would ethically source 100% of its cocoa by 2020, but does not disclose an incremental timeline or which certification it will use.[3] March 2013 In response to ongoing pressure, Hershey shares it plans to worker with Fair Trade USA, Utz and Rainforest alliance for certification, and that it will reach 10% certification by the end of 2013, 40-50% by 2016.[4] January 2014 Hershey announced it was ahead of its original goal, reaching 18% certified cocoa[5]. Today: Green America is pleased that Hershey has followed through on its plan to move to certified cocoa, and is in fact ahead of schedule. Eight years is a long time in the life of a child, so the sooner Hershey can purchase cocoa that comes from farms that screen out child labor, the better. Child labor remains an urgent issue in West Africa’s cocoa sector, and one that stems from extreme poverty. The average income of West African cocoa farmers and their dependents is well below the level of absolute poverty, according to the Cocoa Barometer.  Poverty is a major driver of child labor. In order to address the extreme poverty faced by cocoa farmers, chocolate companies must develop long-term relationships with the farmers they purchase from and pay prices that cover the farmers’ cost of production, including the costs of additional hired labor and necessary fertilizers. The added benefit of chocolate companies paying a higher price for their cocoa is that it guarantees the future supply of chocolate, for chocolate companies and all their chocolate loving consumers. Two years after Hershey’s announcement to ethically certify its chocolate products, we’re celebrating the impact consumers can have when they band together to make change happen! Over the next two years, we’ll continue to monitor Hershey, to ensure the company meets or exceeds it 2016 commitment of 50% certified. We’ll also put pressure on companies who have not taken steps to trace their cocoa supply, like Godiva. Thank you for taking action with us! [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Patience and Action for iPhone 6 Workers

Some iFans may have called out of work last week in an effort to snag a new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which went on sale last Friday. Sales of these devices topped 10 million last weekend–higher than the first weekend sales of the iPhone 5 last year.

The line at NYC's 5th Avenue Apple Store on September 19, 2014.
The line at the 5th Avenue Apple Store in NYC on September 19, 2014. (Credit: Kathy Harget)

There is no question that demand for the new iPhones is strong, but some analysts have pointed out that these high sales figures are not an indicator of demand, but supply. With the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus selling out at locations around the world, its clear Apple is limited by how much it can supply, and how quickly.

Apple shareholders may be excited about the frenzy generated by the release of the iPhone 6, but workers experience this frenzy differently.  A spike in demand for these phones puts greater pressure on Apple’s supplier factories and the estimated 1.5 million workers who work in them, either making parts or assembling the phones.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Foxconn, one of Apple’s final assembly partners, has been operating roughly 100 production lines around the clock in Zhengzhou. “We have been churning out 140,000 iPhone 6 Plus and 400,000 iPhone 6 every day, the highest daily output ever, but the volume is still not enough to meet the preorders,” said a person familiar with the matter.

“The challenge is to manufacture two complicated new iPhones on a large scale at the same time because Foxconn is the sole assembler of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus [and assembles a majority of the 4.7 inch iPhone 6.]”

While Apple boasts profit margins as high as 69%, as was the case with the iPhone 5s, Foxconn’s profit margin is closer to 1.5%, according to Bloomberg.  Apple expects high volume, high quality, and high Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) standards of its suppliers, however, not in equal measure.  When these expectations come into direct conflict, the CSR policies most likely lose out.  This is especially common during times of peak demand, when workers are found to be working excessive overtime, well beyond legal limits. This can also take the form of mandatory overtime, as we found at Catcher, another Apple supplier.

Consumers who didn’t snag a phone last weekend can expect to wait several weeks or months for a new iPhone. We encourage Apple to allow its suppliers the time they need to meet this demand, without compromising working conditions. With worldwide demand well over 10 million units, its clear that consumers of these devices won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

As iPhone 6 workers labor around the clock, you can support them by pushing Apple to take action to improve conditions for workers. You can also share “9 Reasons Not to Rush your Next Smartphone Upgrade” with your friends.

Two Years of Broken Promises

Green America and China Labor Watch (CLW) today released the findings of an undercover investigation we conducted in August 2014 at one of Apple’s 2nd tier supplier factories: Catcher Technology in Suqian.

iPad Announcement Facebook

This factory manufactures metal casings for a number of consumer electronics companies including Apple, Inc. While at the factory, the investigator worked on parts for the iPad. This factory’s sister factories, Catcher Technology in Taizhou and VITO in Suqian, are producing parts for the iPhone 6.  These factories often share workers back and forth.

The investigator discovered extensive violations of Chinese labor laws, as well as violations of Catcher’s policies and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which details standards for worker rights and environmental sustainability for any company supplying to Apple.  Many of the violations were similar to those found in an April 2013 investigation of the same plant, the results of which were shared with Apple by CLW.

Many of the same problems found 16 months ago at Catcher still exist today, and some are worse. Moreover, we’ve uncovered many new violations in 2014. This compares labor violations at Catcher between 2013 and 2014, including indicators of violations of law and corporate policies.


These findings make it clear that in spite of Apple’s commitments, there is need for much more action on human rights and health and safety for workers in the factories where Apple products are made.

Help keep up the pressure on Apple>>