U.S. RECOGNIZES UNION SOLUTION TO CHILD LABOR IN GHANA COCOA

U.S. RECOGNIZES UNION SOLUTION TO CHILD LABOR IN GHANA COCOA

General Agricultural Workers’ Union of Ghana (GAWU) Deputy General Secretary Andrews Addoquaye Tagoe was recognized last month by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) for his role in advancing child and worker rights and for reducing child labor in Ghana’s agricultural industry.

“Where the union is present, child labor is absent,” Tagoe said about GAWU’s campaign to end child labor on Ghana’s cocoa farms. 

Alarmed by increasing child labor in Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa production, GAWU is addressing child labor in cocoa farming communities by applying a child-labor-reduction model honed in fishing communities on Lake Volta. The program raises awareness and incomes of parents so that kids can stay in school.

Although the cocoa industry’s biggest companies pledged to eradicate the “worst forms” of child labor in their supply chains nearly 20 years ago, more than 2 million children are estimated to be engaged in cocoa production in West Africa—primarily in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The two countries together supply roughly 60 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. As cocoa production in both countries has increased, so has child labor. 

Despite the chocolate industry’s substantial annual profits of around $103 billion, up to 90 percent of Ghanaian cocoa farmers do not earn a living income. Building worker voice at local and national levels for farmers to benefit from higher cocoa prices and the profitable global chocolate industry will help end child labor, says GAWU.

Children in Ghana are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in fishing and cocoa production, reported USDOL in 2022.  More than half of children living in agricultural households in Ghana are reportedly engaged in child labor, most in at least one form of hazardous child labor

By organizing and formalizing the agricultural economy in rural areas and working with communities to eliminate child labor, Tagoe has developed and implemented child labor free zones resulting in ‘withdrawal of thousands of children in rural communities from the worst forms of child labor,’ said Thea Lee, USDOL Deputy Secretary for International Affairs at the award ceremony.  

“An Africa without child labor is possible,” Tagoe said in his acceptance speech.

Tagoe was co-recipient of the 2024 USDOL’s Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor with Egyptian civil society organization Wadi El Nil. The award honors its namesake, a Pakistani child sold into slavery at age four to work as a carpet weaver and who, after escaping at age 10, became an outspoken public advocate against child exploitation and died tragically at the age of 12. 

Watch a Solidarity Center video about GAWU’s fight against child labor in cocoa production.

Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture

Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture
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The trafficking of agriculture workers, including children, is widespread globally, and “practices of exceptionalism” limit workers’ rights to freedom of association, organizing and collective bargaining, according to a new report on trafficking in persons in agriculture from United Nations Special Rapporteur Siobhán Mullally.

“Characterized by high levels of informality, lack of oversight and protection, trafficking in persons remains a serious concern within the agricultural sector, affecting both adults and children,” she writes.  

The report notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic saw agricultural workers designated as “essential,” worker protections did not follow. Indeed, temporary, seasonal and migrant workers are provided limited legal coverage, and restrictive migration policies persist despite the demand for agricultural workers. 

Findings include:

  • Discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, migration status, gender and disability creates conditions within which trafficking occurs with impunity.
  • Land inequality, particularly affecting women and girls, drives exploitation, including trafficking for forced labor.
  • The agriculture sector employs an estimated 28 percent of the total global labor force and an estimated 60 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Because it is characterized by high levels of informal and seasonal employment, the risks of exploitation are also high.
  • Discrimination based on migration status leaves workers vulnerable to trafficking.
  • Gender inequality in land ownership and tenure contributes to poverty, dependency and risks of violence, including trafficking of women and girls. Women are estimated to make up 20 percent of the world’s landholders but account for 43 percent of agricultural workers.
  • Indigenous women and girls may experience increased risks of trafficking due to the intersection of discrimination and violence, based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous origin and poverty.
  • People with disabilities may be particularly at risk of trafficking in agricultural work,  where there is limited oversight and monitoring of worker rights. 
  • Agriculture is the entry point for child labor, accounting for 76.6 percent in child laborers ages 5-11 and 75.8 percent in children ages 12-14. Children who travel with parents migrating for work often miss out on their education, as well.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that recruitment practices for the sector–particularly of seasonal, temporary and migrant workers–increase risks of trafficking for forced labor. Recruitment processes and substantial recruitment and other fees often lead to debt bondage.

Meanwhile, “intensive agriculture and agribusinesses contribute negatively to climate change, reflecting the wider nexus between trafficking in persons, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis,” she writes.

The protection of all workers and their families “is essential to prevent trafficking,” she says, urging governments to, among other urgent actions: “Strengthen the capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders to support agricultural workers, including through effective protection of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and to collective organizing and collective bargaining, without discrimination.”

The Special Rapporteur’s report was bolstered by a submission from the Solidarity Center related to the conditions for migrant workers in Jordan’s agriculture sector. The submission noted:

Migrant workers work very long hours in hazardous conditions that lack occupational,  safety and health (OSH) standards, medical care and overtime compensation. Forced overtime is an indicator of forced labor under ILO standards. The agricultural sector in general is an informal economy sector, and the work is usually temporary or seasonal. Agricultural areas are isolated and far from service centers; therefore, agricultural workers who suffer from labor and human rights violations do not have access to justice. Forced labor and wage theft are common violations, although usually not reported because of limited access to justice, absence of labor inspection and fears of retaliation and other threats workers face, especially undocumented or irregular workers. Because these workers were not recognized as workers under Jordanian labor law until May 2021, they lacked access to labor courts and were forced to file complaints through civil courts, which do not exempt court fees, making this an inaccessible complaint process for agricultural workers.

 

The kafala system requires migrant workers to be fully reliant on their employers for legal status. In the case that an employer does not renew a work permit, the worker is punished with deportation and a ban from returning to Jordan for three years. Workers are often deported without receiving their owed wages and other compensation–a form of wage theft, which is also an ILO indicator of forced labor. In cases where agricultural workers leave a workplace to escape harassment, rights violations and forced labor without reporting such violations, they are subject to an overstay fine, which is 1.5 Jordanian dinars per day (approximately $2) and they are subject to detention and false or retaliatory theft accusations by their employers, essentially becoming undocumented workers. Migrant workers rarely if ever report violations, fearing employer harassment or retaliation. Undocumented workers are victims of exploitation by brokers and fixers who charge excessive fees for work permits. A Syrian woman worker said, “Syrian agricultural workers’ wages are the lowest not because they accept to work for low wages but because the shaweesh (the middleman) takes a percentage of their wages.”

The Special Rapporteur’s report cited these examples and supported the Solidarity Center’s conclusion in its submission: “Trade unions are important to combat forced labor and other forms of labor trafficking and exploitation, and to raise workers’ awareness about their rights and the available services and access to justice channels.

“The explicit exclusion of both migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector is a violation of these workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association under the Constitution of Jordan and international human and labor rights as enshrined in the ICCPR, ICESCR and ILO Conventions 87 and 98. The right to freedom of association is fundamental in a workers’ ability to advocate for her/his own rights, protect themselves from forced labor, and ensure protections from GBVH, and other occupational hazards.”

Activists Lift Uzbek Cotton Global Boycott, Say Progress Conditional

Activists Lift Uzbek Cotton Global Boycott, Say Progress Conditional

The Cotton Campaign—a global coalition of human rights, labor, responsible investor and business organizations—yesterday ended its call for a global boycott of Uzbek cotton at an event hosted by the country’s Ministry of Labor for media, activists and government officials in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The announcement came as the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights released a report finding no central-government–imposed forced labor in the 2021 harvest, a success which the Campaign is proposing as a template for removing forced labor from the world’s supply chains. An estimated 2 million children have been removed from child labor and half a million adults from forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector since the multi-sectoral campaign formed.

“[We] have been looking forward to this day for over 14 years,” said Cotton Campaign co-founder and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bennett Freeman, who saluted the determination and courage of Uzbek-based activists and cotton-field monitors.

The historic achievement came after persistent engagement by Uzbek activists, who took on extraordinary personal risk to uncover and document forced labor, joined by multinational brands, international advocates and worker rights groups like the Solidarity Center, and a commitment by the government of Uzbekistan to end its use of forced labor. The boycott began in response to a 2009 petition by Uzbek civil-society activists that launched the Cotton Campaign’s Uzbek Cotton Pledge Against Forced Labor. Since then, 331 brands and retailers signed the pledge, including many of the world’s largest brands, among them C&A, Gap Inc. and Tesco.

“As a journalist and citizen of this country, I am proud to participate,” said Uzbek Forum for Human Rights cotton field monitor Muazzam Ibragimova, who added that her own children were likely headed to the cotton fields as recently as a decade ago.

Although Uzbek Forum’s report found that cotton was harvested without systematic state-imposed forced labor, monitors found cases of coercion and interference by local authorities, as well as individual cases of forced labor. Because independent groups that conduct field level monitoring and capacity building are unable to register and operate freely, progress is “at risk” says the Cotton Campaign in its press release. Given repressive policies that limit freedom of association in Uzbekistan and supply chain practices that have contributed to eroding labor standards in garment producing countries around the world, the Cotton Campaign is calling on the Uzbek government and brands to support worker rights as the industry is poised to grow, and for the government to open the country’s civil society to create the enabling environment necessary for responsible sourcing.

“We need a voice from the ground,” said the Solidarity Center Senior Program Officer for Europe and Central Asia Abby McGill, who added that workers must lead the charge if there is to be permanent success and continued progress in Uzbekistan’s fight against forced labor.

Cotton Campaign Steering Committee member, GLI-ILRF Forced Labor Program Director and human rights lawyer Allison Gill recognized the efforts and courage of Uzbek Forum monitors and pointed to the coalition’s success in Uzbekistan as a template for combating the use of forced labor in cotton sourced from other countries. More than one fifth of the world’s cotton is produced in China’s Xinjiang region where significant evidence of human rights abuses, including suspected forced labor, has been reported.

The Cotton Campaign, of which the Solidarity Center is a long-time member, is a global coalition of international human and labor rights NGOs, independent trade unions, brand and retail associations, responsible investor organizations, supply chain transparency groups, and academic partners. The campaign encourages responsible sourcing to ensure that reforms continue to benefit workers, farmers, and civil society.

GLJILRF is a newly merged organization that brings strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors.

Uzbek Forum for Human Rights is a Berlin-based NGO dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights and strengthening civil society in Uzbekistan.

A Union Solution to Child Labor in Ghana Cocoa: New Video

A Union Solution to Child Labor in Ghana Cocoa: New Video

A recent study by NORC at the University of Chicago found that child labor in Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa production increased 14 percent in less than a decade, demonstrating the urgent need for more effective and inclusive interventions, says the General Agricultural Workers’ Union of Ghana (GAWU). GAWU is reducing child labor in cocoa farming communities by applying a child-labor-reduction model honed in fishing communities on Lake Volta that raises awareness and incomes of parents so kids can stay in school.

“Where the union is present, child labor is absent,” says GAWU Deputy General Secretary Andrews Addoquaye Tagoe about a new video produced with Solidarity Center support.  He points to the successful long-term GAWU child labor interventions in fishing communities in Kpando Torkor and, more recently, child labor reduction programs in cocoa farming communities, for which GAWU received an international labor rights defender award this year.

Girl using machete on cocoa pod in a video about how a Ghana agricultural union is helping children leave cocoa production for school

Girl opening a cocoa pod with a sharp machete in a GAWU child labor video

Up to 2 million children are engaged in cocoa production in West Africa, primarily in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The two countries together supply about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. As cocoa production in both countries has increased—by 62 percent during the past decade—so has child labor. In Ghana, 55 percent of children living in agricultural households are reportedly engaged in child labor, more than 90 percent of them engaged in at least one form of hazardous child labor.

Using the collective power of farmers and their families, communities, anti-child labor clubs, school authorities and local leaders to fight child labor in more than 180 cocoa farming communities in the Ashanti, former Brong-Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Volta and Western, regions, GAWU’s 30,000 cocoa farmer members are:

  • Building worker voice at the local and national levels for farmers to benefit from higher cocoa prices and the profitable global chocolate industry
  • Negotiating collective bargaining agreements with Ghana’s Cocoa Board that establish binding commitments to producing child-labor free cocoa
  • Creating child-free labor zones and Community Child Protection Committees who enforce child labor legislation
  • Working through cocoa farmer cooperatives to produce cocoa byproducts and developing skills for non-farm economic activities to generate income that covers children’s school-related expenses
  • Supporting and sending children to bridge schools that provide academic support to children withdrawn from child labor and prepare them to reintegrate into mainstream schools
Girls walking to school in Torkor village where GAWU, a Ghana agricultural union, is helping children leave cocoa production for school

Girls in Torkor village walking to school in a GAWU child labor video

The union’s child labor reduction Torkor model is finding success, says Tagoe, because it represents the multiple intervention and community-based approaches that the NORC report findings say are key. The $103 billion cocoa industry’s current approach—which includes the expenditure of $215 million on voluntary certification programs during the past decade even as child labor prevalence continued to rise—represents the industry’s failure to fulfill its longstanding promise to eradicate child labor from its supply chains.

Unions are at the heart of sustainable, effective interventions because they engage community leaders, including women and youth, in their design and implementation, as recommended by NORC and the Child Labor Coalition. “We are driven to step up our organizing efforts and help new and current members work with community partners to fight child labor in cocoa,” says Tagoe. “Agriculture without child labor is possible.”

According to the Child Labor Coalition, of which the Solidarity Center is a member, “The industry needs to focus on paying a living income while also rapidly scaling up programs that identify child laborers and ensure that children are able to go to school.”

GAWU is the largest trade union representing formal- and informal-sector farmers and agricultural workers in Ghana, and an affiliate of Solidarity Center partner Trades Union Congress-Ghana (TUC-Ghana) and the International Union of Food, Hotel, Tobacco, Restaurant and Allied Workers (IUF).

Watch the video:

Turkmen Labor Activist Released from Prison after 3 Years

Turkmen Labor Activist Released from Prison after 3 Years

Gaspar Matalaev, a labor and human rights activist who monitored and reported on the systematic use of forced adult labor and child labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields, was released today after serving three years in prison on spurious charges stemming from his reporting.

Matalaev was arrested in October 2016, two days after Turkmen.news published his extensive report on state-sponsored forced labor.

He reportedly was tortured and held incommunicado while in prison, according to the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of organizations, including the Solidarity Center, working to end state-organized forced labor in Central Asian cotton fields.

The global labor and human rights communities are hailing the release, but are united in insisting Matalaev should never have been imprisoned.

“Today is not a victory for justice. Matalaev should never have spent the past three years behind bars,” according to the Cotton Campaign. “We will continue to support activists who expose the injustice of forced labor and modern slavery with the support of our global community.”

The international community rallied in support of Matalaev, with more than 100,000 people signing an online petition to the Turkmen government demanding his immediate release. Activists also picketed the Turkmen Embassy in Washington, D.C. In May 2019, the International Labor Rights Forum awarded Gaspar Matalaev the Defender of Labor Rights Award for making public the Turkmenistan government’s ongoing use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest.

Some 70 companies, including Levi Strauss & Co and H&M, have signed the Turkmen Cotton Pledge, refusing to supply cotton from Turkmenistan as long as it is produced in a system that relies on forced labor. Additionally, 84 investors of these companies with assets of nearly $860 billion have signed a related investor statement that notes the importance of preventing the presence of Turkmen cotton in companies’ supply chains until the government ends its coercive system.

Turkmenistan: One of the World’s Worst Human Trafficking Records

Turkmenistan has one of the worst human trafficking records in the world, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. In 2018, the report found that even as the Turkmen government “continued to engage in large-scale mobilizations of its adult citizens for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest and in public works projects, no officials were held accountable for their role or direct complicity in trafficking crimes.”

Human trafficking within countries of citizenship is especially prevalent in cases of labor trafficking, such as in Turkmenistan.

The Turkmen government “tightly controls all aspects of public life and systematically denies freedoms of association, expression and religion,” according to Human Rights Watch.

In April 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Matalaev was “subjected to arbitrary deprivation of liberty based on trumped-up charges” and his detention was “a direct result of his exercise of the freedom of expression and opinion.” The working group recommended Turkmen officials release Matalaev and compensate him, but the government ignored all calls for his early release.

 

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