Indonesia is the third-largest cocoa producer in the world after Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and a significant sourcing region for Mondelēz International. Embode recently undertook its third assessment on child labor in cocoa for Mondelēz International in Indonesia. (Executive summary can be downloaded here) With our work now completed in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia, we are able to see some important differences in these three countries, which may be useful to consider in responding to child labor in cocoa.
Just as the quality of a cocoa bean will differ depending on the soil in which it is grown, the communities farming cocoa will differ depending on the socioeconomic factors affecting them. The world is a diverse place. Cocoa is grown and cultivated in so many different countries, within a diverse range of socioeconomic, political, and cultural settings.
The Embode team traveled to Indonesia, spending time to understand the local context and learn about the social structures of the cocoa-growing communities in which Indonesian children live and grow. To the Embode team’s surprise, we did not find child labor to be a significant concern in the cocoa-growing communities we visited. This is not to say that child labor is not a problem in Indonesia. Although Indonesia has impressively cut its poverty rate in half since 1999, poverty still affects a significant number of people. Socioeconomic vulnerability is an everyday reality for many families, contributing to the country’s significant problem of child labor. Child labor has been well documented in the rubber, tobacco, and palm oil industries, and has been found in numerous other local industries, from seaweed cultivation to brick making.
Despite this trend, the situation of child labor in the cocoa-growing communities in Indonesia is significantly better than in the cocoa-growing communities of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Embode noted several important differences between the cocoa-growing communities visited in Indonesia and those visited in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire which could explain its findings.
Education plays an important role. Over the last decade, Indonesia has reached almost universal education. Schools and the education system are accessible, well developed, with an amenable ratio of well-trained teachers to students and good quality facilities. In the communities we visited, families had prioritized the education of their children above all other considerations. Cocoa-growing parents realized that things had changed a lot since they were young. Good quality education is more accessible now, and they no longer had to rely on their children’s labor in the same way their parents had to rely on them.
Education must be seen as the primary response to child labor in cocoa-growing communities. When a child is at school, they are not on a cocoa farm, nor any other farm, field, or factory. When a child is at school, they are in an environment that fosters their development and growth, empowering them to better negotiate their future employment. Also, in communities where child protection systems have not yet been developed sufficiently to respond to child labor, a well-functioning school system is the best way of identifying children vulnerable to child labor. A child who is regularly absent or shows indications of early dropout can prompt an intervention by the school management to inquire with the child and their family about their circumstances.
But for education systems to work, structural poverty needs to be addressed. In the cocoa-growing communities Embode visited in Indonesia, there was adequate access to basic amenities such as water, electricity, sanitation, and toilets. As most communities were relatively close to economic centers and small towns, there was also sufficient access to basic healthcare and other social services. Infrastructure was reasonable, making transportation accessible. Also, it is pertinent to note that farmers cultivated a variety of crops and were not entirely dependent on, nor loyal to, cocoa for their livelihoods. All of this was in stark contrast to the socioeconomic environment of cocoa-growing communities in West Africa.
Indonesia has taken significant strides to address structural poverty and improve the socioeconomic conditions of its most poor and vulnerable. As part of its national poverty reduction strategy, the Indonesian government is implementing a number of social programs specifically targeting the most poor and vulnerable. Administered through a decentralized governance system, social programs provide cash and other in-kind support to people who would otherwise not be able to cope. Such programs ensure that the most at-risk children and families are helped from falling into situations where they need to rely on their children to work and supplement their income.
Child labor does not take place in a vacuum. It is enabled and triggered by a multitude of socioeconomic factors, of which lack of access to education and structural poverty play a very big part. Where communities struggle to access basic amenities such as water, electricity, sanitation, and toilets, and education is not accessible, children and families are left in high-risk situations with few choices. This is why a holistic community development with children at its heart, makes all the difference to a long-term, sustainable response to child labor.
Based on their assessment of the Indonesian cocoa sector, Embode recommends that Cocoa Life builds on its existing holistic approach with actions that include:
Develop interventions to ensure children stay in school as long as possible as primary response to identified risk
Integrate the existing program more intentionally with relevant social assistance programs to help the most vulnerable children and families access resources
Engage more actively in the national cocoa sustainability conversation
Cocoa Life is reviewing Embode’s findings and working on integrating their recommendations within the program’s interventions, building on the strengths of our existing community-centric approach.