Always Left Holding the Bag: The Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cocoa Farmers and Children in Côte d’Ivoire

Always Left Holding the Bag: The Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cocoa Farmers and Children in Côte d’Ivoire

Always Left Holding the Bag: The Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cocoa Farmers and Children in Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic upended global trade. Across the world, people “sheltered in place” as shops, schools, workplaces, and restaurants closed, travel came to a halt, and supply chains – including the cocoa supply chain – went into a frenzy. Suddenly, cocoa farmers’ livelihoods, already precarious in normal times, became even more uncertain. For decades, multinational companies have reaped massive profits while cocoa farmers have lived on poverty wages. Most farmers in Côte d’Ivoire earn under the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day. Farmers are often unable to support their families on such low incomes, much less pay adult workers fair wages. As a result, farmers generally hire migrant workers at very low wages, rely on their children to help on the farms – or, in some cases, buy trafficked children. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Ivorian cocoa industry in myriad ways.

This report examines four key aspects.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Price of Cocoa and the Cocoa Supply Chain:

The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the Living Income Differential (LID) in October 2020 led to a volatile cocoa market for much of 2020 and 2021. In October 2020, the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments implemented the LID, an extra $400 per ton of cocoa above the farm gate price meant to give farmers additional income. Yet companies quickly found ways to avoid paying the full price, buying up large quantities of cocoa on the futures exchange and using the alleged decrease in demand from the pandemic as an excuse to negotiate lower prices with the Ivorian government. Although the LID remains in place as of November 2021, companies successfully negotiated down the overall price they must pay, ultimately depriving Côte d’Ivoire of muchneeded revenue.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Farmer Poverty:

The initial wave of the pandemic in spring 2020 led to a decrease in farmer income as it became more difficult to produce and sell cocoa. Because farmers are paid so little for their cocoa, any decrease in income hits them especially hard. Such a loss can make it difficult for farmers to buy food for their families or pay for their children to attend school. When Côte d’Ivoire shut its borders in March 2020, the country went into lockdown and the country’s largest city, Abidjan, was isolated from the rest of the country to control the pandemic. During those first few months, in the small growing season, many cocoa farmers had difficulty producing and selling cocoa and often earned less than in previous seasons. Production suffered as migrant workers from Mali and Burkina Faso could no longer legally cross the border to work on cocoa farms, leading to a labor shortage, and cocoa farmers had difficulty accessing inputs like fertilizers and pesticides that increase yields. Cocoa farmers also struggled to export and sell their cocoa, as farmers and cooperatives faced challenges transporting cocoa to the ports for export, especially with Abidjan isolated from the cocoa-growing regions.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Trafficking:

Although Côte d’Ivoire’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso were closed for much of 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic children continued to be trafficked into Côte d’Ivoire and sent to work as forced laborers on cocoa farms. With the borders closed, trafficking across the border became more clandestine, with children reportedly crossing into Côte d’Ivoire at night on motorcycles instead of during the day on buses. Once in Côte d’Ivoire, trafficking patterns continued largely unchanged during the pandemic, with children bused south to cocoa growing regions where they were forced to work on farms without pay, or were told that payment was given to their traffickers, who would deliver it to their families in their home countries. Although the number of children in forced labor is unknown, these children are spread across the cocoa-growing regions of Côte d’Ivoire. Recent enforcement actions by the Ivorian government, as well as
evidence collected during our investigations, suggest that trafficking and forced labor are ongoing issues.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Labor:

While the impact of the pandemic on child labor will likely not be known for a number of years, there are signs that child labor may have increased during the early months of the pandemic. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Côte d’Ivoire in March 2020, schools across the country closed for two months as the country went into lockdown. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of child labor had already been high and had even increased over the previous decade. With schools closed from March to May 2020, many parents brought their children to the cocoa farms with them as a form of childcare, almost certainly increasing child labor rates nationwide. Once at the farm, children assisted parents in a variety of ways, often including using machetes, carrying heavy loads, or spraying pesticides – all forms of hazardous child labor. When schools reopened in May 2020, not all children returned to the classroom, as many parents could not pay for their children’s education because of decreased cocoa production.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many of the challenges that have existed in the Ivorian cocoa industry for decades. So many of these challenges result from companies paying too little for cocoa and pushing the risk of a bad harvest – or a global pandemic – onto cocoa farmers who already live under the World Bank’s poverty line. To address the issues of a volatile cocoa market, farmer poverty, forced child labor, and hazardous child labor, companies must take on the risk and responsibility themselves by providing transparency in their supply chains down to the farm level, paying a living income, and committing to long-term contracts.

Read full report here.