Pact aims at cocoa-farm child labor

Posted: September 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government and the chocolate industry pledged $17 million Monday to help end child labor - some of it forced and dangerous - in two African countries where much of the world's cocoa is grown.

"If there's one thing people around the world share in common, it's our love of chocolate. But it is a bitter reality that the main ingredient in chocolate, cocoa, is produced largely by child labor," Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) said at a signing ceremony for a new agreement between industry, the Labor Department, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana.

A June 2001 investigation by Knight Ridder, later acquired by McClatchy Newspapers, looked at the lives of boys who were tricked or sold into slavery on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. The stories led to a voluntary program by industry to end abusive and forced child labor on the cocoa farms. Harkin and Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) drew up the agreement with industry in September 2001.

Harkin and Engel said Monday that although progress had been made, large numbers of children still worked in the cocoa sector. Engel said there were times he and Harkin were "very, very frustrated by the slow pace" of change.

The new plan calls for a 70 percent reduction of internationally unacceptable child labor by 2020.

The Labor Department pledged $10 million and industry groups pledged $7 million for building schools and helping rural families in the two West African countries escape poverty so they don't have to rely on their children's wages. The Labor Department will monitor and report on progress.

The new initiative will rely on Ghana and Ivory Coast for enforcement. It does not include any certification program to assure people who buy chocolate that it isn't produced by children.

Ivory Coast Labor Minister Emile Guirieoulou said that his nation's parliament was expected to adopt a bill soon that would ban human trafficking and forms of child labor that do not comply with the standards of the International Labor Organization.

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