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ILRF Update March 2009: Nestlé and Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by Experts on Nestlé chocolate   


Reports about the widespread use of child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa surfaced internationally in 2001.  An estimated 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa and 40% comes specifically from Cote d’Ivoire.  Children working on cocoa farms, some of whom were victims of trafficking, often work long hours in the heat coming in to close contact with pesticides and often using machetes.(1)  



Cocoa in West Africa is largely cultivated on small, family farms, but because farmers do not receive fair compensation for their beans, they are often forced to cut labor costs and use the labor of children.  Nestlé is among the international chocolate companies that source cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire and other West African nations.  Unlike other chocolate manufacturers, Nestle has operated representative offices and processing facilities within Cote d’Ivoire.

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) first wrote to Nestlé in 2002 to inquire about the company’s cocoa sourcing policies and to encourage Nestlé to increase transparency, pay a fair price to farmers and comply with international labor standards.  Nestlé immediately referred to chocolate industry association initiatives and would not meet ILRF’s demands.  As a chocolate company that has traders and processing facilities directly in Cote d’Ivoire, Nestlé is well positioned to institute higher standards of accountability, but has failed to do so.

When US lawmakers learned of the situation in the cocoa industry, they initially proposed a bill to require chocolate manufacturers to participate in a “child labor free” labeling system.  Under pressure from industry, the major chocolate companies instead signed a voluntary agreement in 2001 known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol,(2) named after Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel.  An initial July 2005 deadline required major chocolate companies, including Nestlé, to establish a public certification system to ensure that their cocoa was grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor.  Nestlé and other companies failed to meet their self-imposed 2005 deadline as well as an extended deadline of July 2008, and to date, Nestlé has not certified any of its cocoa supply as free from child labor.(3) 

In February 2008, Nestlé did make a public commitment to the Good Inside Cocoa Program, established by the Dutch non-profit organization Utz Certified and intended to provide greater traceability within cocoa supply chains.  At that time, Utz stated that its first pilot projects would begin by the end of 2008, with the final Code of Conduct available in early 2009 and “Good Inside” cocoa available on the market by the end of 2009.(4)  While the program is moving forward in Cote d’Ivoire, it does not have the specific labor expertise necessary to fully ensure adequate protection of a range of labor rights.

While Nestlé states in its Corporate Business Principles that it “fully supports” the UN Global Compact’s Principle 5 on the abolition of child labor and says that it is “against all forms of exploitation of children,”(5) the company has not instituted proper programs to verify that its cocoa suppliers are actually implementing these broad commitments.  Despite recent requests from the International Labor Rights Forum for details on how Nestlé specifically ensures that it is complying with international labor standards in its specific cocoa sourcing, the company has not responded.

A lawsuit filed by International Rights Advocates against Nestlé, as well as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, on behalf of Malian children who were trafficked to work on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire is ongoing in US court in California.(6)  In its court filings, Nestlé has repeatedly argued that it is just buying a product when it comes to cocoa and is not responsible for egregious labor rights violations involved in its production.  Nestlé also consistently argues that its own code of conduct is merely “aspirational.”(7)  Consumers should be aware that Nestlé apparently does not believe it should be expected to implement its own business principles.

1. For more information about labor conditions in the cocoa sector in West Africa, please visit the International Labor Rights Forum:

2. The text of the Harkin-Engel Protocol can be viewed online here:

3. The press statement explaining this extension can be viewed online here:

4. More information on the UTZ cocoa program is available online here:

5. Nestlé Corporate Business Practices can be viewed online here:

6. For more information about the lawsuit, please visit:

7. Ibid.


Last Updated ( Mar 12, 2009 at 07:06 PM )
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