cocoa pods chocolate

Chocolate suppliers have vowed to ramp up efforts to stamp out child labour in cocoa production in the wake of a report ­suggesting the problem is ­getting worse in West Africa.

The report, published by Tulane University, revealed there were 2.26 million children aged five to 17 years working in cocoa production in Ivory Coast and Ghana in 2013/14 - a 21% increase since 2008/09.

The number of children in hazardous work - which includes carrying heavy loads, using sharp tools and being exposed to dangerous agro-chemicals - was up 18% to 2.03 million over the same period.

The industry has stepped up efforts to tackle child labour in recent years, but major suppliers admitted the latest findings were alarming.

Mars Chocolate has implemented a number of supply chain initiatives, including a child labour monitoring system in partnership with the International Labour Organization. However, a spokesman recognised the incidences of child labour were “unacceptable” and said the company would use the findings to “redouble” its efforts.

Cadbury owner Mondelez, which launched its $400m Cocoa Life programme to address child labour and other supply chain issues in 2012, said it was “concerned” by the increases noted by the report.

A spokesman said the company had commissioned human rights consulting agency Embode to assess the situation in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and would use the agency’s recommendations to “enhance action plans” in both countries.

Nestlé said child labour had “no place” in the cocoa supply chain and vowed to continue to take action to “prevent and eradicate” it.

The company hopes to roll out its Child Labour Remediation and Monitoring System to all 67 Nestlé Cocoa Plan co-operatives by the end of 2016.