On World Day Again Child Labour (12 June 2010), Edward Millard, Head of Sustainable Landscapes at the Rainforest Alliance looked at how certification can help protect children from exploitation…
Employing children on farms when they should be at school or making young people undertake tasks that are dangerous or damaging to their developing bodies is clearly unacceptable practice. This was highlighted in the cocoa industry in 2001 and generated responses at government and industry level. The major chocolate companies signed an agreement with the US government to eradicate the worst forms of child and forced labour from their supply chains. They also funded an independent organisation, the International Cocoa Initiative, with the participation of trade unions and NGOs to undertake educational programmes in cocoa producing communities in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s two largest cocoa producers.
Rainforest Alliance Certification supports eradicating child labour in three ways:
The root cause of abusive child labour is poverty – putting children to work instead of paying hired labour, or maybe because the parents can’t afford to send them to school. As poverty cannot be eradicated quickly, education is the key to quick improvements. Farmers who take part in training programmes for Rainforest Alliance certification also have to discuss the problems of children working and the rights of all children to attend school. Farmers do not want to put their children at risk and our training programme gives them the skills and knowledge on how to avoid it.
To obtain the rewards of certification, farmers must comply with the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. This prohibits farms from employing full- or part-time workers under the age of 15; and between 15 and 17 children must have written authorisation for employment signed by their parents or legal guardian. Workers between 15 and 17 years old must not work more than eight hours per day or more than 42 hours per week, their work schedule must not interfere with educational opportunities and they must not be assigned activities that could put their health at risk, such as the handling and application of agrochemicals or activities that require strong physical exertion. These are exactly the type of abuses that have been most commonly recorded: children carrying heavy loads of cocoa pods from the tree to the fermentation and drying centre, spraying agrochemicals without protection and climbing trees with machetes to reach the higher up pods.
To achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, each farm has to be visited by an internal auditor and an external auditor every year and random checks may occur at any time. These auditors are recruited and trained in country, not simply flow in from the developed world, with no connection to the country or understanding of its culture. This monitoring system cannot guarantee that child labour never occurs on any day of the year but combined with the education, it provides the best assurance possible. The governments also have their own monitoring system to check for incidences of child labour, so the certification auditors are supporting government policy directly by providing supplementary monitoring activity.
Child labour, though, is a complex issue. Helping the family on the farm is natural to most African children who live in the countryside, as it is in many farming families throughout the world. As long as they are not missing school or exposed to dangerous tasks, it is not difficult to argue it is wrong. The Sustainable Agriculture Standard allows minors, who are part of the family, between 12 and 14 years old, to work part-time on family farms as long as their schedule, including school, transportation and work does not exceed ten hours on school days or eight hours on non-school days. Interpreting what does and doesn’t constitute child labour requires an understanding of local culture and tradition. For this reason, Rainforest Alliance’s policy of training and accrediting auditors from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana is vey important.