Raising cocoa prices in West Africa will not end the worst forms of child labor, but advocates are right: Increased income for cocoa farmers might reduce the economic pressures that drive child labor. The July 3 Economy and Business article “West African countries plan to hike cocoa prices to boost farmer incomes” questioned the need for government involvement but did not mention other complex elements that need to be addressed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
For example, take a look at Liberia, also in West Africa, where child labor is widespread throughout the agriculture sector. Yet, more than 10 years ago, the worst forms of child labor were eliminated on the Firestone Rubber Plantation because a strong, ethical, membership-led union prioritized working conditions, including reducing high quotas that forced families to use unpaid labor from women and children, along with an explicit clause in their collective bargaining agreement prohibiting child labor. Worker activism, along with an engaged ministry of labor and international advocacy, eliminated child labor on the plantation, then the country’s largest employer. This complex mix of worker-led activism — which in the case of West Africa’s cocoa producers would include small holder farmers, rural women’s associations and allies — and accountable government engagement presents a replicable approach to ending child labor in many developing economies.
Imani Countess, Washington
The writer is vice chair of ActionAid USA.