This update was co-written with Judy Gearhart, a senior researcher at the Accountability Research Center.
Since 2016, the downward trend in the incidence of child labor documented over the prior 15 years has reversed. UNICEF reported 8.9 million more child laborers worldwide in 2020 over numbers reported in 2016, and this increase in child labor has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Agriculture, and the cocoa sector in particular, are rife with child labor and forced labor, especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which produce 60 percent of the world’s supply of raw cacao. The persistence of child labor and farmer poverty as documented by the USDOL-funded NORC report, which found child labor increased overall by 14 percent between 2013-14 and 2018-19, against a targeted reduction of 70 percent, has demonstrated the need for new, more holistic, and effective strategies to address child labor in the cocoa sector.
It is in this context that the World Bank has proposed $300 million in financing for the Côte d’Ivoire Cocoa Integrated Value Chain Development Project (IVCD). There are significant risks that, if the project is not well designed and preventative measures are not put into place, the project may see further increases in the incidence of child labor in the sector. However, if the World Bank and Ivorian government are able to effectively design and operationalize child labor mitigation and response systems, the project has the potential to contribute towards improving the wellbeing of cocoa-growing communities and ending the worst forms of child labor in the Ivorian cocoa sector. Doing so will require transparency, extensive stakeholder engagement with the involvement of independent civil society organizations (CSOs) able to engage constructively and critically with the government, and the promotion of farmer livelihoods and wellbeing.
In Côte d’Ivoire, one of the key issues is that, while there are CSOs that have the ability to work with the government, these organizations tend to be dependent on foreign aid, which requires government approval and thus often limits critical feedback. This project finance model, combined with ongoing threats against independent human rights organizations has facilitated the weakening or outright co-optation of many CSO voices. International actors can rebalance this dynamic by creating the space for independent CSO feedback and oversight of project implementation.
To date, there has been very little information on the proposed loan made available to independent CSOs in Côte d’Ivoire, and it is unclear what consultations the government has conducted or intends to conduct. Although the only substantive document available is the concept note — which does not specifically state how the project objectives will be achieved — there are several principles cited by the concept note, which appear promising for cocoa producers and their communities and for enabling greater CSO participation. In particular, the language under component 3, “Institutional Development and Project Management,” is encouraging.
If done well, this component could set in place improved governance structures with the potential to address some of the ongoing roadblocks to success. If done poorly, however, the project could further entrench the current state co-optation of civil society and enable or become complicit with the ongoing threats against independent civil society actors.
Going Beyond “Do No Harm”
The establishment of a grievance redress mechanism (GRM) within the Conseil du Cafe et Cacao (CCC) would be a positive step to enable a GRM for farmers who are struggling to access inputs, secure the price floors promised to them, or enable their children to attend school. However, a GRM only addresses the issue after the fact. Whereas in the case of child labor, for example, evidence demonstrates that a preventative approach is most effective in reducing harm to children, as opposed to merely responding after the fact. To better prevent child labor from occurring in the first place, the World Bank should:
- Facilitate independent, safe, and inclusive consultations with civil society and publish detailed documents in French and other briefing materials in advance of those consultations. CSOs critical of the government have not been included in consultations as of yet, and many fear retaliation if they speak up through other avenues. Moreover, documents pertaining to project design (e.g. the concept note) on the World Bank website have only been published in English, which creates an information barrier to participation by local civil society in a francophone country.
- Evaluate the CCC’s monitoring systems for conflicts of interest. Many high-level government officials have a significant stake in the cocoa sector, resulting in conflicts of interest in enforcing environmental and labor regulations. While the project includes child labor prevention as a component, the concept note is lacking in detail and relies on the willingness of the Ivorian government to carry out any measure in later project designs.
- Utilize experts and past examples such as lessons learned from the COCOBOD grievance redress mechanism recently established in Ghana’s COCOBOD to inform the design of the project. Lessons learned from analysis of the grievance redress mechanism developed for the African Development Bank (AfDB) project implemented by the Ghanaian Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) should be applied to this project. Best practices should be gleaned from child labor prevention efforts that have effectively engaged independent civil society voices and secured government accountability to the communities. Most importantly, expertise should be sought from researchers and specialists in the field, especially those based in Cote d’Ivoire.
- Include the reduction of farmer poverty as a metric in the project results, as farmer poverty can lead to children leaving school to support their families. Farmer poverty is a driver of harmful practices such as deforestation and child labor, as financial pressure will push families to pull children from school to generate income, and lead to the clearing of protected, forested land to increase output. Increases in farmer incomes, on the other hand, are more likely to help reduce the drivers of child labor, particularly the incidence of hazardous child labor.
We urge the World Bank to use the opportunity presented by this loan to design and facilitate a project that strengthens government services provided by the CCC to cocoa farming communities. Effective and ongoing stakeholder engagement and oversight, access to information for farmers, good governance of the sector, and the inclusion of farmer poverty reduction metrics can help make this project an effective tool for the improvement of the cocoa sector. This in turn will help to support efforts to reduce child labor in the sector.