Combating the worst forms of child labour on West African cocoa farms


Launched in 2008 at the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Co-operation of Belgium, in collaboration with several development co-operations agencies, the SWAC Secretariat co-ordinated collaborative work on “Child labour in the West African cocoa sector”. Bringing together key stakeholders and regional institutions, this initative built upon existing experiences and best practices and promoted a complementary regional child labour approach. The Inter-Parliamentary Union support this initiative by conducting lobbying efforts in Africa and OECD countries. Principles and "Emerging best practices in combating the worst forms of child labour in West African cocoa growing communities" are presented in the guidebook, jointly published by the SWAC Secretariat and the International Cocoa Initiative.


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West Africa accounts for more than 70% of world cocoa production (Côte d’Ivoire 38%, Ghana 21%, Cameroon 5% and Nigeria 5%). Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the world’s two largest producers, representing 80% of total West African production. Cocoa is also produced in Togo, Sierra Leone and Liberia albeit in much smaller quantities.

The problem of child labour in West Africa is a complex and widespread issue and has to be viewed within the general context of the future of youth, poverty and economic development. The phenomenon is witnessed in many agricultural activities such as pineapple, banana and cotton farming, and does not only concern the cocoa sector.

Over the last 10 years, this issue has generated strong mobilisation; programmes and initiatives carried out have obtained considerable results. In particular, the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, West Africa's main cocoa producing countries, are strongly involved. This initiative conducted within the framework of the SWAC Secretariat built upon these existing experiences and promoted a complementary regional child labour approach.



Regional approach

The regional dimensions and cross-border features of the West African cocoa sector and child labour, in particular child trafficking, are a key element in favour of promoting a complementary regional approach in combating the worst forms of child labour on West African cocoa farms.

The regional dimensions of the cocoa sector are geographic: all main cocoa production basins being cross-border – transnational in nature and also economic; accounting for 46% of West Africa’s agricultural exports. These characteristics explain that production methods, social structures and broader socio-economic contexts are similar across countries.

Some of the issues related to child labour have a clear regional context, such as child trafficking. This issue can only effectively be tackled by designing regional strategies.

To effectively address the regional dimensions of combating the worst forms of child labour, regional institutions, in particular ECOWAS (and ECCAS), but also UEMOA and CILSS need to be stronger involved. Regional actors are still absent from most strategies and programmes. The absence of a co-ordinated regional approach is also a handicap to the many efforts at national level aimed at combating child trafficking.




  • Promoting the emergence of a regional institutional leadership; 
  • Promoting commitment to intensify and support remediation efforts
  • Promoting coordination and inclusiveness of interventions at all levels (local, national, regional and international)



The involvement of all main stakeholders has been agreed as the core pillar of this initiative. 16 partners, including the International Cocoa Initiative, the European Cocoa Association, the World Cocoa Foundation and many bi-/multilateral and regional partners, participated in the drafting of a joint position paper. The initiative also aims at involving:

  • Local actors in developing strategies and promoting programmes and activities;
  • National governments (cocoa producers and others), its technical agencies, control and enforcement services (notably as regards child trafficking);
  • Regional organisation and associations: CILSS, ECOWAS (the ECOWAS’ Youth and Sports Development Centre), ECCAS, UEMOA and producer organisations;
  • International and bi-lateral organisations.




Regional conference of Parliamentarians to fight child trafficking

Cotonou (Benin), 26-28 May 2010

This first meeting, co-organised by the National Assembly of Benin, the SWAC and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, called for a bold action of the Parliament for fighting the trafficking of children in view of their labour exploitation in the cocoa sector. More than a hundred participants from twenty parliaments of West and Central Africa adopted the “Declaration of Cotonou” which lays the ground for concerted action, and stronger regional initiatives, with a view to eradicate child trafficking. A roadmap defines short and mid-term common strategies.

16th World Cocoa Foundation partnership meeting

Brussels, 16 October 2009

In his presentation on “Social issues in commodity supply chains – a holistic view”, the Belgian Minister for Development Co-operation, H.E. Charles Michel, underlined the advantages of regional initiatives like the initiative on “Combating the worst forms of child labour on West African cocoa farms”, co-ordinated by the SWAC Secretariat. He pointed out the need for dialogue between producing and consuming countries, regional organisations, private companies and civil society from the South and North, - a view that is expressed in the regional cocoa initiative’s joint position paper, signed by 14 key stakeholders and regional institutions.



First Task Force meeting

Paris, 9 February 2009

The SWAC Secretariat hosted the first Task Force meeting of the regional initiative on “Combating the worst forms of child labour on West African cocoa farms”. The Task Force members discussed the conclusions of the preparatory desk study, taking stock on all existing programmes. On this basis, an outline for a complementary regional initiative was developed involving all stakeholders. > Summary record

Further reading

Joint position paper

This document reflects the common vision of the Task Force members. Signed by 14 stakeholders and regional organisations, it underlines the need to develop a complementary regional approach to combat the worst forms of child labour on West African cocoa farms. It highlights the need for a complementary regional approach, regional institutional leadership, support to intensified remediation efforts, and co-ordination and inclusiveness.


Regional desk study  (French)

This Desk study analyses the structural aspects of child labour within its context (demographic trends, regional population density, evolution of child labour, West African cocoa prospects, etc.), national policies, international norms (ILO, conventions, etc.) and their implementation as well as current practices of involved actors.

> download the full paper (French) | > Conclusions


Chapter of the Regional Atlas on West Africa

September 2007

Since 1960, world cocoa production has increased threefold, from 1.2 to 3.6 million tonnes. This growth was punctuated by several jolts caused by structural adjustment policies, crop infestations, diseases and market speculation, all of which have affected production. Three countries in the inter-tropical zone growing cocoa beans, dominate world production: Côte d’Ivoire (39%), Ghana (21%) and Indonesia (13%).The important West African production basin extends from Guinea to Cameroon where, apart from Benin, all the countries grow cocoa trees.


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