Child labor, deforestation, inequitable sharing of wealth… Cocoa has its dark side. Passing through Paris, the Ivorian Minister of State for Agriculture Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani insisted on defending brown gold, of which Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer (40%), ahead of its neighbor Ghana ( 20%).
A former planter who grew up in the midst of cocoa trees, the minister says he is “very comfortable” talking about child labor. “Even if the phenomenon exists, it is to a lesser degree and it cannot taint our cocoa with irregularity,” he said in an interview with Les Echos.
Talking about child labor is in his eyes “abusive language”. “It’s the parents who work in the plantations and sometimes they are accompanied by their children to see what is happening and learn how to plant,” he says. The most difficult tasks are done by adults, not children, he says.
A recent report from the University of Chicago funded by the US Department of Labor paints a different picture. 38% of the children of farmers in the Ivorian production zones work in the plantations. Worse, due to the crisis, child labor is said to be on the increase, despite government initiatives in recent years. The prevalence of the phenomenon even reaches 55% in Ghana.
For manufacturers, the reputational risk is too heavy to bear, especially at a time when responsible investment is gaining momentum. Nestlé has understood the challenge and has just tripled its spending on sustainable cocoa by 2030 to assure its investors and customers that no child will have worked throughout its supply chain. The Swiss giant will invest 1.3 billion francs in a program aimed at paying up to 500 francs per year to planters who send their children to school and take care of their plantation.
Another sensitive subject: deforestation. The European Union has decided to toughen its regulations against the products that come from it. The Ivorian minister recalls that the luxuriance of the Ivorian forests is much more generous than in Europe. “We shouldn’t be given too many lessons, especially as we try to make an effort. We have decided to plant 1 million trees a year and we hope to find 20% of our lost forest. »
These questions are all the more explosive as the cocoa trade supports 30% of the Ivorian population. “If you don’t want our cocoa – and I don’t want to get there – more than 8 million people will be negatively impacted, reminds the minister, it’s another social problem that will be raised and you go see people leaving Africa to come to Europe. »
The priority of the Ivorian government is a better distribution of the wealth of brown gold and above all better remuneration for planters. “Cocoa and its processing are more than 105 billion dollars generated per year. Only 5% reach the producers”, deplores the Ivorian Minister of Agriculture. “If we reach 10%, we will no longer speak of people injured in the sharing of the cake”, thinks the minister.
The first step involves improving the remuneration of planters, among other things by setting up with Ghana the Decent Income Differential (DRD), a premium of 400 dollars per ton paid by large multinationals which is added to the prices international. “There was enthusiasm at the start, but it was at the time of payment that we noticed nonchalance. Some multinationals respect the clause, others are still dragging their feet. »
Strictness of the law
The confectioner Hershey had been accused of circumventing the mechanism by sourcing directly from stock market operators. Once the awareness phase is over and the rules of the game are well established, bad payers will suffer “the rigor of the law, they will be made to pay dearly”, promises the minister.
Côte d’Ivoire’s ambition remains above all to develop processing at the local level. “Côte d’Ivoire is the leading grinding country in the world, but grinding cocoa is not finished processing. We need to be able to go further by making the chocolate ourselves,” he argues. The leader promises tax benefits to all investors wishing to settle in Ivorian territory.