A multidimensional perspective on child labor in the value chain: The case of the cocoa value chain in West Africa

Milande Busquet*, Niels Bosma, Harry Hummels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The International Labor Organization (ILO) states that most agricultural work carried out by children occurs within the family unit, is generally unpaid and often hazardous in its nature and/or in the circumstances in which it is carried out. At the same time, some scholars nuance this view by positing that children who work in agriculture in the spheres of their own household are not necessarily exploited. Making progress in addressing (worst forms of) child labor by value chain actors necessitates unpacking the complex dynamics, context and interlinkages that connect firms and farms at the local community level. This study responds to this call by proposing a new multidimensional perspective on child labor based on comparing and contrasting Global Value Chain (GVC) literature and the Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA). Adopting such a perspective allows for an explanation of both vertical dynamics, including global inter-firm linkages and power distribution, as well as horizontal dynamics, such as local norms and values, access to capitals and livelihood trajectories that contribute to the occurrence of child labor. This framework is illustrated by a case study on child labor in the cocoa value chain in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, based on information obtained from a variety of sources, including 38 key informant interviews, 12 focus group discussions and structural observations. This study shows that children are not only factors of production, but are socially embedded in family structures and local communities. Children participate in a wider range of rural and agricultural activities as part of rural upbringing and learning a livelihood, in which not only harms but also benefits can occur. These findings advance the discussion by moving away from a dichotomy on child labor as a good or bad practice and putting the development opportunities of children center stage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105601
Number of pages14
JournalWorld Development
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Global value chains
  • Sustainable livelihoods
  • Child labor
  • Cocoa
  • Ghana
  • Cote d'Ivoire

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