Women academics at University of Sheffield unveil cocoa research

Women academics at University of Sheffield unveil cocoa research

 October 29, 2019

A studied authored by Professor Genevieve LeBaron and Dr Ellie Gore, experts at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield, have found that women workers in the cocoa industry tend to experience more severe forms of exploitation, and that cocoa industry business models are configured to profit from women’s unequal position within the industry and society.

The study, published in the Journal of Development Studies, reveals that cocoa workers in Ghana, particularly women, endure physical and sexual violence, verbal abuse and food deprivation. Many experience involuntary labour and face going unpaid, underpaid or having their pay withheld.

Professor LeBaron, Director of SPERI at the University of Sheffield, said “This study has uncovered the brutal reality of life for workers in the cocoa industry’s supply chains – where business models are built on exploitation and inequality."

Genevieve LaBoran University of Sheffield

Unfair work agreements for women in cocoa in Ghana

Using data gathered from 74 cocoa communities from Ghana’s two largest cocoa-producing regions, the Western and Ashanti regions, the researchers uncovered the ways in which gender shapes patterns of work and exploitation. Factors such as gendered norms and divisions of labour, payment practices and income inequalities, unequal land access, a lack of redress and access to justice, and household and family practices come together to render women workers disproportionately vulnerable to severe labour exploitation.

Women workers’ average yearly earnings are 1,610 Ghana cedis ($298.15), compared to an average of 2,356 Ghana cedis ($436.30) for men. Women are more likely to be hired for lower-paid roles and are sometimes paid less for doing the same work as men, based on the assumption that women will be able to do it less competently. Meanwhile, where women work with their husbands on a farm, their spouse receives the payment for both of them.

Farm owners seek to minimise costs by making deductions from workers’ pay for equipment, fertiliser, food and transportation. They impose fees and fines, sometimes creating situations of debt bondage, where they force workers to pay off fees through unpaid labour.

Workers also report being made to take on unpaid tasks such as weaving drying mats for cocoa beans, under threat of fines, pay deductions or being fired. Farm owners prefer to hire men as permanent workers, believing that they can undertake more arduous physical labour, which leaves women more open to forms of exploitation connected with precarious work.

Putting a spotlight on labour conditions for women

Professor LaBoran added that “Until now very little research has been done into how gendered power relations and unequal societies make women more likely to face forced labour, low pay and abuse. This paper shows that to eradicate forced labour in the cocoa industry, governments and big international corporations must take gender into account.”

Dr Ellie Gore, Global Challenges Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, said “Our research shows how the business models of highly profitable companies rely on the exploitation of women workers. This isn't happening due to a few rogue employers, it’s structural and industry wide. A spotlight should be put on labour conditions for women workers at the base of cocoa supply chains around the world.”

Dr Ellie Gore University of Sheffield

Women conduct important research at the University of Sheffield

Women academics like Professor LaBoran and Dr Gore do important work at the University of Sheffield. Do you like the sound of working with a leading academic institution? There are also a range of support and teaching roles available.

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