Unfortunately, child labor is deeply ingrained in many parts of rural Côte d’Ivoire – I know this first-hand. I used to work from time to time myself on my parents’ farm when I was growing up. It’s an uncomfortable reality but that doesn’t mean it can’t be addressed.
We have made really good progress with our Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS), but it hasn’t always been easy. Our 2019 Tackling Tackling Child Labor Report was wonderfully honest about the challenges we face. I also wanted to give you my view of the issues we face in the field. The report made very clear that tackling child labor is a highly complex topic. I agree with that. We face challenges in multiple areas.
SHADES OF GREY
Even things that should be simple like the list of prohibited tasks for children can prove difficult to explain to farmers. Take the recent banning of the “daba” a traditional hoe used for weeding. It can be considered a bladed tool so banning it should be obvious. But there are lots of different kinds of daba – their production isn’t standardized. Some are indeed dangerous; others are more like little trowels. Kids frequently use them to help their family scrape weeds out of the garden at home.
So, when you say to a farmer that it is forbidden for their muscular 16-year-old son to use one, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to them (especially since using a saw or hammer is allowed if they were learning to be a carpenter for example). Yet that is the law and it must be respected. Sometimes these discussions cause frustration and can be delicate.
DEALING WITH SCALE
Another problem is database maintenance. That sounds strange so let me explain. We have over 73,000 farmers in the system. It is not unusual for them to have up to ten children in the household. So, there can be births or deaths of children during the year – frequently these are not officially recorded. Sometimes older kids will leave a household and go to live with a relative – or the opposite, a farmer’s niece, nephew, younger sibling or grandchild can come to live with them. There is no source of information for those changes other than to physically visit each family every year. It’s essential but time-consuming work. Especially when you add to that the fact that the membership of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan isn’t static, that whole coops sometimes join or leave and within that farmers themselves sometimes join or leave the coops. There are a lot of moving parts.
DRAWING THE LINE
Another very real problem is identifying where our responsibility ends. Lots of the cases we discover don’t have anything to do with cocoa. For example, there are a lot of gold mines in Côte d’Ivoire that use child laborers to sift for gold. When the child’s father happens to be one of our farmers – or our CLP happens to hear about it in some other way, should we count those children in our figures? Or does that distort the scale of child labor in cocoa while covering it up in mining? Is that child our responsibility, the mining industry’s or the government’s? We have policies in place of course, but it remains a complex issue. It’s also why we continually say we can’t solve the problem on our own and look to work with partners.
EACH CASE IS UNIQUE
Being in the field on a very regular basis, I feel that awareness-raising is the most important tool we have. Early CLMRS system stats appear to back that up. We frequently see complete behaviour change in a single visit. For instance, we’ve often explained that carrying a heavy load could damage a child’s spinal development and seen an immediate change because no parent wants that for their child. But awareness-raising has its limitations. For example, I recently spoke to a 15-year-old, who told me “Yes, the CLP has been here, at least five times. I know that as a child I shouldn’t be using a machete but because my dad is so old I don’t have a choice. I have to help him.”
What that shows is that each case is completely unique. We can’t have a blanket solution for everyone. In terms of remediation, Things like giving a school kit or building a school are great but every child also needs specific help. Imagine we have a chronically sick child who is too ill to go to school and so they help their parents in the fields (maybe by using a machete to open harvested pods) – what use is it to give them a school kit? That won’t solve their problem. So, we have to take an individualised approach – and that means really taking the time to understand what the causes are for each child. With so many children being monitored in the system that is a challenge.
THE HUMAN ANGLE
A final challenge for those of us in the field is simply the human one. You see a person in front of you and empathize with their problems – you relate to them and desperately want to help. But as professionals, we have to be aware that our resources and remit are limited. If we throw all our resources at solving one family’s problem and go beyond the scope of our remit, then there will be other families who we won’t be able to help as a result. For every complex case we resolve, there were ten simple cases that could have been resolved in the same timeframe (and budget).
On a personal level, for our teams in the field, this can be difficult. Sometimes you have to recognise that your ability to help someone is limited. With time, you get more accustomed to it like a doctor or nurse does, but there are always moments when it touches you emotionally.
Those are just a few of the issues we face, it would be impossible to list them all. But hopefully, it shows some of the complexity that we are dealing with daily and the importance of having the soft skills to develop genuine relationships with the people in the ground.
Learn more about our efforts to tackle child labor here