WAfrican nations plan to hike cocoa prices, citing "injustice" in chocolate industry. Can they reduce child labor?

Children from Burkina Faso working on a cocoa farm in Ivory Coast share water scooped from a pond during a work break.

While the global chocolate industry takes in an estimated $100 billion annually, many of the hundreds of thousands of West African cocoa farmers, who provide most of chocolate’s key ingredient, live in poverty.

This imbalance amounts to a “manifest injustice,” Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said last month.

Now the world’s leading cocoa producers, Ghana and Ivory Coast, are joining together in an attempt to raise the commodity’s price, a move government officials say will boost farmer incomes, reduce the incidence of child labor and give West African farmers a more equitable cut of global chocolate profits.

“We will not continue to be victims or pawns of the global cocoa industry that is dependent on the work of our farmers,” Akufo-Addo said.

Quickly dubbed “cocoa-pec” after the OPEC cartel established by oil-producing countries, the two-country cartel would set the minimum price for a ton of cocoa at $2,600, roughly 10 percent above the world price at the time of the announcement. The two produce about 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply.

“The goal is to protect producers and their families from the various fluctuations in cocoa prices,” said Benjamin Walker, of Ivory Coast government’s cocoa board. As for curbing child labor on cocoa farms, “this can only be positive as everyone recognizes that one of the causes of this phenomenon is poverty. Partly because of poverty, some parents find it difficult to send their children to school.”

Consumers would be unlikely to notice a significant change in the cost of a chocolate bar — cocoa is just one of several ingredients — but the world’s chocolate companies have responded cautiously to the proposal.

The industry has repeatedly faced criticism stemming from its West African cocoa supply: While global profits are in the billions, cocoa production in West Africa has been blamed for impoverishing cocoa farmers, relying on widespread child labor and, in part, the deforestation of millions of acres.

The typical farm family makes as little as $2,400 annually, and according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in West African cocoa-growing regions. While most of the child laborers on West African cocoa farms are working on family plots, thousands are believed to have been trafficked from other African countries. Washington Post journalists spoke with a dozen such children for an earlier article.

Groups seeking to eradicate child labor on West African cocoa farms praised the move.

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