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What is child labour?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity (…)" It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or

  • interferes with their schooling by: 

  1.  depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;

  2. obliging them to leave school prematurely; 

  3. or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Child labour is different from child slavery, child trafficking or forced labour.

  • The NGO Anti-Slavery defines child slavery as "the enforced exploitation of a child for someone else’s gain, meaning the child will have no way to leave the situation or person exploiting them". Child labour can result in child slavery. Cases of children trafficked to cocoa farms to work without pay have been reported both in Brazil and West Africa, especially in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. A study found that in Ghana, 23% of surveyed cocoa laborers reported having performed work without compensation.

  • Child slavery usually includes child trafficking, i.e., taking a child out of their protective environment, across borders or within a country, with the purpose of exploiting them.

  • Forced child labour is considered as work that is conducted because of a penalty, or the threat of one, from someone other than the parent. Forced child labour can also occur if the parent themself is in forced labour. Forced against ones will and under threat.


Child Labour in the cocoa industry 

The cocoa industry is responsible for child labour worldwide, but Africa is particularly affected by the issue. The continent produces about 70% of the world’s cocoa. Indeed, about 45% of children aged 5-17 and living on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana are found to be engaged in child labour. In 2018, this concerned 1.56 million children in Western Africa. Child labour specifically caused by the cocoa industry can take the forms of children having to use dangerous tools such as machetes or chainsaws, carrying heavy loads or handling agrochemicals. The work conditions have been linked to the "worst forms of child labour" (WFCL) which was prohibited in Core Convention No 182 of the International Labor Organization. Nevertheless, the percentage of children involved in hazardous work has increased by 13% between 2008/09 and 2018/19. Exposure to agrochemicals, which includes not only spraying but also being in close proximity, has increased from 15% to 50%. In 2018/19, 41% of children working on cocoa farms have experienced fatigue, 34% were in very bad pain and 30% have experienced cuts. In the Côte d’Ivoire, 1 in 5 children had to receive medical treatment. 


Human trafficking is also widespread in the cocoa industry and many children also come from other parts of Africa such as Burkina Faso and Mali. Often, children are sold by their own relatives for the promise of a better life. 

It is important to recall that child labour is only the tip of the iceberg to structural issues such as poverty and low farm gate prices. The harvesting of bulk cocoa is a sector that pays the lowest, and therefore only attracts the poorest. For families, sending their children to cocoa farms is usually the only option they have in order to earn money, albeit very little. A living income, compared to a minimum wage, is defined as the “net [...] income required for a household in a particular place to afford a decent standard of living for all members of that household.” This includes not only food, water and housing, but also education and provisions for unexpected events. In Western Africa, almost no cocoa farmer earns a living income. Even among the Fairtrade certified farmers  in the Côte d’Ivoire, a living income is earned by only 12%. Child labour is also connected to other social issues such as gender inequality (women being over-represented in farmers), infant malnutrition, lack of access to education, insufficient health care facilities and sanitation and insecurity of land and tree tenure. About 20%-30% of such children suffer from stunted growth. Stunting and infant malnutrition can lead to a range of health disadvantages later in life, including reduced physical and mental capacity. In addition, the over-exploitation of cocoa has been linked to the issue of deforestation.


Businesses and Human Rights

The international community has long been aware that human rights violations occur in corporate supply chains. The UN Special Rapporteur John Ruggie has identified in 2008 already three main reasons why human rights violations continue in production.

  1. Investment treaties protect foreign investors and make it difficult for host countries to increase standards without facing challenges in international arbitration. 

  2. International corporations are a separate legal entity from their subsidiaries as well as their suppliers which makes it difficult to hold them legally accountable. 

  3. Developing countries either lag the will to enforce human rights due to international competition for investment or the capacity to do so. 

Based on this, Ruggie developed the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework: states have a duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and both of them have to provide access to remedies. Based on this Framework, Ruggie developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) which were unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011. While there have been voluntary commitment frameworks before, such as the UN Global Compact, the UNGPs are the most important guidelines today. Accordingly, for businesses to fulfil their responsibility to respect human rights, they have to: 

  1. Make a public policy commitment by senior level management which is embedded throughout operational policies. 

  2. Do human rights due diligence to “identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights”.

  3. Establish a process through which human rights violations which they caused or contributed to can be remedied. 


Specifically, the due diligence process is of paramount importance and is further elaborated on in the UNGPs.   The process varies depending on the size of the business, the relationship and the general context. The business should use its leverage with business relations to prevent or mitigate potential or actual human rights impacts not only where it caused or contributed to it, but even if they have not contributed when there is a direct link to the business’ operations, products or services.


The UNGPs are still a voluntary framework and as such do not impose a legal obligation on businesses. Moreover, the principles are still very vague which enables businesses to claim that they adhere to the UNGPs even if they do not meaningfully try to reduce adverse human rights impacts. In 2020, the World Benchmark Alliance identified 229 global actors across five high-risk sectors (agricultural products, apparel, automotive, extractives and ICT) and assessed their human rights due diligence performance. Nearly half of the companies (46%) scored no points at all. This is why states are increasingly adopting legislation on the matter. Examples are France with the Duty of Vigilance Act 2017, the Netherlands with the Child Labour Due Diligence Act 2019 and Germany with the Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chain Act 2021. The EU Commission has now (23 February 2022) published a proposal for an EU-wide directive imposing mandatory human rights due diligence.


As of now, the UK does not have similar legislation. While the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has a section on transparency in supply chains and companies have to publish a statement on what steps they take to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking, this statement can also say that no steps are being taken. As such, there is no obligation to do due diligence and take actions to prevent human rights violations in supply chains. 

That is why we are petitioning the UK Government to create "A Business, Human Rights and Environment Act". Key elements of such an act include a corporate duty “to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence”, “[h]old companies and other organisations accountable for failure to prevent abuses through liability provisions” and create more avenues for victims of abuses to “access remedies”.  You can sign the petition here:  


Ethical Brands  

We have compiled a list of brands for you that focus on producing ethically and do everything in their power to avoid adverse human rights impacts. Check them out:

  • Alter Eco 

  • Beyond Good

  • Cacao Crudo

  • Chocolate and Love

  • Cocoa Loco

  • Cox & Co. 

  • Divine

  • Doisy & Dam 

  • Eat Your Hat

  • Endangered Species

  • Ocelot

  • Pacari

  • Shaman 

  • Seed and Bean

  • Theo Chocolate 

  • Tony’s Chocolonely

  • Willie’s Cacao

More info on ratings of different brands can also be found on: 

Ethical Consumer Magazine       and           Green America


Shops that sell ethical chocolate in Edinburgh 

These are some of the shops we found

  • Oxfam shops

  • The Refinery (Waverley, Newington, Corstorphine)

  • University of Edinburgh cafes

  • Sainsbury's

  • One World Shop (Prince's Street)

  • Jordan Valley Wholefoods (Nicholson's Street)

  • Potter Shop (Potterrow)

  • Real Foods

  • Paper Tiger

  • Chocolate Tree

  • Locavore

  • The New Leaf Co-op

  • Weight To Go (Leith)

Contact us if you know any other places or shops so we can add them to the list!


Sources + further resources


  • Anti-Slavery, ‘Child slavery’ <> accessed 25 February 2022.

  • International Cocoa Initiative, ‘Child Labour in cocoa’ <> accesed 25 February 2022.

  • Food is Power ‘Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry’  (January 2022) <> accessed 25 February 2022. 

  • National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago, NORC Final Report: Assessing Progress in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Cocoa Growing Areas in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (October 2020).

  • Convention (No. 182) concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour (adopted 17 June 1999, entry into force 19 November 2000) 2133 UNTS 161 (ILO Convention 182). 

  • UN Human Rights Council (HRC), ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework’ annexed to the ‘Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie’ (21 March 2011) UN Doc A/HRC/17/31 (UNGPs).

  • World Benchmark Alliance, Corporate Human Rights Benchmark - Across Sectors: Agricultural products, Apparel, Automotive manufacturing, Extractives & ICT manufacturing (2020).

  • European Commission, ‘Just and sustainable economy: Commission lays down rules for companies to respect human rights and environment in global value chains’ (press release, 23 February 2022) <> accessed 25 February 2022. 

  • Modern Slavery Act 2015 s 54. 

  • Anti-Slavery International, ‘A call for a UK Business, Human Rights and Enviornment Act’ <> accessed 25 February 2022. 

Further resources: child labour in cocoa per se 

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