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Barry Callebaut cites progress in helping cocoa farmers tackle child labor

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss cocoa products maker Barry Callebaut BARN.S said on Tuesday that 26% of the farmer groups from which it sourced products in 2018/2019 had programs to prevent child labor,

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more than double the figure from the previous year.

Barry Callebaut, whose largest shareholder is the holding company founded by the Jacobs family, added it would eradicate child labor from its supply chain by 2025 and aim for all its ingredients to be from sustainable sources by that point.

Callebaut has in the past estimated that more than 2 million children are working on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, based on a 2015 report from U.S.-based Tulane University. It says the figure is now out of date and it does not have an updated number.

“Poverty keeps farmers from hiring professional workers, forcing them to rely on their family members, including their children, to work the fields,” the company said.

“As a result, the future generation of cocoa farmers, deprived of their childhood and education, will not be empowered to break this vicious cycle,” it added.

Activists have criticized chocolate companies for not doing enough to tackle child labor in the industry.

Zurich-based Barry Callebaut, which makes products for customers including Nestle NESN.S and Unilever ULVR.L, said it reduced its carbon footprint by 6.7%, distributed 2.5 million shade trees and cocoa seedlings and regenerated 3,800 hectares (14.7 square miles) of forest in 2018/19.

“We have reached a milestone this year, sourcing over 50% of all our raw materials from sustainable sources. This includes 47% of sustainably sourced cocoa beans and 54% of non-cocoa raw materials,” Barry Callebaut said on its website. “However, we do recognize that we still have many challenges to reach our 100% goal.”

(This story officially clarifies 2 million figure in paragraph 3 after company says number is outdated, corrects to show company controlled by Jacobs Holding, not Jacobs family)

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Alexandra Hudson