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Faulty reasoning begets unjust trade

Part 4 on why the U.S. should not ban cocoa imports from Ivory Coast

· Africa

Ivory Coast is one of the 17 countries that has made significant advancement to prevent the worst forms of child labor. A cursory internet search on the subject reveals that this West African country is actually recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as advancing significantly in the fight against the worst forms of child labor. This belies the call made by U.S senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to ban cocoa imports specifically from Ivory Coast because of “ingrained” and “prevalent” forced child labor.

Cocoa beans are produced in tropical zones around the Equator. The top ten cocoa producing countries are, in order of ascending volume of production: Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Cameroon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ghana and Ivory Coast. About 70% of the world's cocoa beans come from four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Ivory Coast and Ghana together produce nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa each year.

The U.S imports 60% of its cocoa beans from Ivory Coast, 24% from Ghana, 8.2% from Ecuador, 4.6% from Dominican Republic, 0.75% from Nigeria, and the rest from a number of other developing countries, including Peru, Papua Guinea and Tanzania. Child labor is present in all cocoa production. In West Africa, it is estimated that 2 million children engage in hazardous work on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast combined.

Yet, in their July 2, 2019 letter to Honorable Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, U.S. senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) single out Ivory Coast in their call to impose a ban on cocoa imports.

Overgeneralization + illogical conclusions + personal bias = unsound trade barriers

The senators state that “at least some, if not a significant portion of those imports, were produced with forced child labor”, and later emphasize that “…it is too ingrained in that country’s industry to attempt to single out specific cocoa farms or producers as bad actors”. Such a blanket statement is based on a triple faulty reasoning: overgeneralization, illogical conclusion and personal bias.

First, they draw their conclusion based on too little information about a limited number of situations of forced child labor by applying it to the entire cocoa sector. How many cocoa farms in Ivory Coast use forced child labor? There’s an estimated 1 million cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast. The average family has 5 children. How many did the senators identify as being victims of forced child labor, versus children working to help the family business? Where are the disaggregated statistics? Are there 100 or 500 or 1,000 farmers using forced child labor? Even if it is 1,500, it doesn’t mean 1,000,000 farmers are doing so. If farms using forced child labor can’t be singled out, it does not mean mean that all children working on cocoa farms are being forced and exploited.

Second, their conclusion seems not only illogical but also personally biased. Do the senators consider products made with smaller amounts of child labor OK to import into the U.S.? Is it OK, for example, to import sugarcane harvested with some forced child labor but not significant enough to be considered “ingrained”? Is it OK for a small number of African children to be victims of forced labor, just as long as it’s not a significantly visible number? What’s significant, anyway? Isn’t any amount of forced child labor reprehensible, whether it’s one or a thousand or a million children being forced to work? Or is the life of just one African child too insignificant for the senators?

What seems clear is that senators Brown and Wyden have blatantly ignored existing data that puts their argument in question. Not only does the U.S. Department of Labor, in its latest Child Labor Report, which provides a global breakdown of country assessments of the use of child labor, rank Ivory Coast as one of the 17 countries that has made significant advancement to prevent the worst forms of child labor.

Ivory Coast has also “made meaningful efforts in all relevant areas covering laws and regulations, enforcement, coordination, policies, and social programs”. Yet no such reference or recognition is made by senators Brown and Wyden in their letter. Nor do they reference the list of goods produced with child labor.

Cocoa is not among the top ten products list of goods tainted by child labor

In addition to assessing Ivory Coast as one of the 17 countries making significant advancement to prevent the worst forms of child labor, the U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods produced by child labor or forced labor which lists a total of 148 goods in 76 countries, does not include cocoa.

  • The goods with most child labor include: gold, bricks, sugarcane, cotton and coffee (both rated equally), tobacco, and cotton.
  • The goods with most forced labor include: bricks, cotton, garments, cattle, and sugarcane.

Cocoa is not included among the list of products most tainted by child labor.

The first question that comes to mind is: Why don’t senators Brown and Wyden call for a ban on U.S. gold imports from China, where severe labor abuses extend into the heart of its export economy, or from Mexico, which according to UNESCO has one of the largest child labor forces in Latin America, second only to Colombia, of children between the ages of 7 and 14? For some reason, neither country is included in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Country Assessments on child labor. Is this an omission by vested interests?

The senators don’t call for a ban on sugar imports either. Not from Nicaragua (has made minimal advancement) or Colombia, or Costa Rica, or Guatemala, or Honduras (all have made significant advancement, like Ivory Coast). Nor do they call for a ban on tobacco imports from Brazil (also has made significant advancement). And they certainly don’t call for a ban on cross-border trade of tobacco from North Carolina or Kentucky, which together produce 70% of the 700 million pounds of tobacco grown in the U.S. each year.

Kids as young as 10 and 11 in the U.S., a majority migrant farmer families and many of whom develop health issues from toxic agrochemicals, pick this cash crop in the U.S for giant international companies. But hardly anyone is watching to make sure the work is safe.

The lack of accountability in the application of standards for child labor in agriculture in the U.S. dovetails with the lack of protections for farm workers more generally. Under federal law, farm workers cannot legally collectively bargain, and they rarely receive benefits and overtime. How is this better than what is happening in Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms, where, by the way, multinational corporations are joining forces with civil society and government to improve labor conditions and specifically address child labor?

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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