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Vanilla supply chain mapping in Madagascar reveals challenges to overcoming child labor

Issues Child Labor

Fair Labor Association Urges Action During International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor

Gaps in supply chain management systems, an unsustainable economic model, and a problematic educational infrastructure create the conditions for continued child labor in the vanilla sector in Madagascar, according to an analysis conducted by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and released in a new report.

“This report provides a glimpse into the communities that produce much of the world’s vanilla spice, exposing concerns with labor rights compliance on both plantations and smallholder farms,” said FLA CEO and President Sharon Waxman. “Everyone in Madagascar’s vanilla sector has a role to play, and the FLA urges each stakeholder to take concrete steps to increase the sustainability of vanilla producing communities to improve living and working conditions and address the root causes of child labor.”

Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla, representing about 80 percent of the global supply. Vanilla is the top commodity exported from the country. A 2012 study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported about 20,000 children aged 12 to 17 working in vanilla production in Madagascar, accounting for more than 30 percent of the sector’s workforce.

The FLA’s report, A Tale of Two Supply Chains: Child Labor in the Vanilla Sector in Madagascar, adds to the body of knowledge on child labor in the vanilla sector by documenting the differences in non-compliance with labor standards on a plantation and smallholder farms. The report also found:

  • Child labor is prevalent, and awareness of child labor standards is low
  • Children are engaged in hazardous work, including carrying heavy loads and using knives and machetes
  • The public education infrastructure is poor and not conducive to teaching or learning
  • High prices for vanilla lead to undesired outcomes for producers and the community
  • Gaps exist in supply chain management systems
  • Existing sustainability projects are not meeting their aims

The report provides more than a dozen recommendations for vanilla sector stakeholders, with specific suggestions targeted at the government of Madagascar, multinational companies, and local processors and suppliers.

The ILO is asking organizations to take specific actions during 2021 that will contribute to ending child labor globally in response to a UN General Assembly resolution designating the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor.

The report findings are the result of mapping assessments conducted on a large vanilla plantation and smallholder supply chains located in the SAVA region of Madagascar. The SAVA region, located in the northeast of Madagascar, is the main vanilla producing area of the country with 70,000 producers. Findings were gathered through field visits and stakeholder interviews conducted in the coastal communities of Vohémar, Sambava, and Antalaha in November and December 2019.

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