Top 10 cocoa-producers and the issue of child labor in the industry

ByDaniil Filipenco

Top 10 cocoa-producers and the issue of child labor in the industry

The word ‘cacahuatl’ in Nahuatl (informally Aztec) is where the word ‘cocoa’ draws its origins from. A major export product from West Africa, cocoa was also utilized as money by the ancient Maya and Aztecs in Central America. Today, it is consumed worldwide, mostly as the main ingredient of chocolate.

The pods of the cacao tree, which grows in tropical climates, are used to make cocoa beans. Because the beans must be gathered and processed by hand, the process of making cocoa requires a great deal of labor which is often hard to find. This is why the issue of child labor in the cocoa industry is rampant and rather disturbing.

Did you know that 300-600 cocoa beans (weighing around 450 grams) have to be processed to make 1 kg of chocolate? Interesting fact: A typical cocoa pod weighs 400 grams and has 30 to 50 large seeds, and a seed’s weight can vary from 0.5 to 1.5 grams based on its size and the variety of cacao.

Cocoa and… international development

While cocoa is used as an essential raw ingredient in many goods, the chocolate industry is its primary user. At a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.98%, the international market for cocoa and chocolate is anticipated to reach US$68 billion by 2029 (for comparison, in 2022 this figure was US$48 billion).

The primary reason for this expansion is the increased demand for cocoa components which are utilized in a variety of confectionery products, non-alcoholic drinks, and bakery.

Roughly 40 million to 50 million individuals who are employed in sectors that depend on cocoa are supported by approximately 5 million to 6 million farmers who grow the commodity. These figures speak for themselves when it comes to the importance of the cocoa industry to reduce poverty and provide employment for nations in the tropical climate zones.

Child labor in the cocoa industry

Collectively, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in Africa produce close to 60% – 3 million tons – of the cocoa grown worldwide annually. Approximately 1.56 million children are being forced to work on cocoa plantations in these two nations. In Ghana, for instance, during the 2018-19 cocoa season, over 80% of children aged 5 to 17 in the farming homes surveyed were economically involved, and 60 % of these were involved in cocoa production activities.

Children in Western Africa often have to work for up to 100 hours a week under hazardous conditions that endanger their safety.

See also: What is child labor and how can we end it?

The government of Côte d’Ivoire has already reacted after receiving encouragement from the international community and assistance from the country’s First Lady, Dominique Ouattara, who founded the Children of Africa charity and chaired the national surveillance committee to fight child labor and exploitation.

The authorities of Côte d’Ivoire have approved a National Action Plan for 2019-2023 and NGOs and development organizations have initiated numerous projects to increase children’s rights. Despite these efforts, success in eliminating child labor in cocoa production is minimal.

Some of the biggest food and beverage corporations in the world have unveiled initiatives to address the issue of child labor in the chocolate industry.

For instance, according to the Swedish company Nestle, so far 159,783 children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have obtained support via CLMRS. The company’s CEO commented that it “will continue to help children go to school, empower women, improve farming methods and facilitate financial resources”.

Top 10 cocoa-producing countries in 2021/22

Approximately 5.5 million tons of cocoa were produced globally during the 2021–2022 cocoa season. Nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa production comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Source: Our World in Data

Cocoa bean production (2021)

Although cocoa beans are produced in many countries, some are more notable than others. Cote d’Ivoire is one of them, with over a third of all cocoa grown worldwide coming from this country where the cocoa business began in its eastern half in the 1970s.

Another major cocoa player is Ghana. Cocoa is an important industry in the country, accounting for approximately 2% of GDP and employing over 30% of the population.

Indonesia is somewhat new to the industry with the increase in production having started in the 1980s. Today, the country is among the world’s major producers. Among other large cocoa-producing nations are Ecuador, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nigeria, and Peru.

Source: Our World in Data

3. Indonesia

Total Cocoa Production: 728,046 tons

Recent data shows that Indonesia registered an annual output of nearly 730,000 tons of cocoa. For the most part, smallholder farmers are those involved in the cocoa production industry in this nation, contributing to around 90% of Indonesia’s total cocoa production. As of 2022, there were 11 cocoa processing businesses in the country, with their combined export value being worth US$1.12 billion. The region with the richest cocoa harvest is the Sulawesi island, boasting about 75% of the country’s total cocoa production.

2. Ghana

Total Cocoa Production: 822,000 tons

The second most productive nation in the cocoa industry registered an output of over 822,000 tons in the 2021/22 season. Cocoa is cultivated in several regions, including Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Volta in the Eastern part of the country. It has been estimated that approximately 850,000 farming families are involved in cocoa production in Ghana.

At the same time, it is of note that smuggling and illicit gold mining on farmlands are predicted to cause Ghana to produce less cocoa than the goal of 750,000 tons for the 2022/23 season.

1. Côte d’Ivoire

Total Cocoa Production: 2,200,000 tons

Cocoa production plays a vital role in the economy of Côte d’Ivoire, a rather small country in Western Africa, with more than 5 million people out of nearly 28 million inhabitants being involved in the industry. Furthermore, 40% of the country’s national export income comes from cocoa production. At the same time, the sector has to deal with several challenges and the country receives just a small share of the total profits obtained by the entire cocoa industry. The nation’s authorities have been attempting to address this issue but are struggling to persuade the multibillion-dollar chocolate business to provide fair payment to local farmers.

In addition, many farmers in the country face poverty, earning just $0.78 daily which is considerably lower than the minimum level set by the World Bank ($1,90). Furthermore, in 2023 heavy rains have left the nation’s cocoa warehouses almost empty, and growers anticipate a yield that is three to four times lower in the 2023/2024 season.

Final word

The major players in the cocoa production industry play an important role in the global economic and economic development of nations, where it creates jobs and helps local communities. At the same time, while it’s evident that cocoa production is important for the world, there are still certain underlying ethical concerns. Child labour is one of the critical problems, often driven by economic challenges and the lack of enforcement of labor laws. Efforts to address these problems are ongoing, involving governments, international organizations, and corporations, but there’s still a long way to go.