WASHINGTON — The U.S. government and the chocolate industry pledged $17 million on 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," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, at a signing ceremony for a new agreement between industry, the Department of Labor, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
A June 2001 investigation by Knight Ridder, later acquired by McClatchy, gave readers a close-up look 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 while some progress had been made, large numbers of children are still working in the cocoa sector. Engel said there are times when he and Harkin are "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 chocolate 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 doesn't include any certification program to assure people who buy chocolate that it isn't produced by children.
Harkin said he doesn't object to children working after school or on weekends, as long as the work doesn't endanger their safety and health.
Engel noted that canned tuna has a stamp showing it's "dolphin free." Someday, there could be a similar stamp to show that chocolate isn't made from cocoa beans harvested and processed by children who work instead of going to school, he said.
That criteria is covered by the Fair Trade stamp, but many major companies don't use that certification.
A survey by Tulane University for the Labor Department last year found that the majority of children in cocoa-growing areas of Ivory Coast and Ghana were working, but many of them were also in school: About 60 percent in Ivory Coast and 90 percent in Ghana were enrolled. Less than 0.5 percent of children working in cocoa reported being forced to work by a non-relative.
Ivory Coast Labor Minister Emile Guirieoulou said that the nation's parliament is expected to adopt a bill soon that would ban human trafficking and forms of child labor that don't comply with the standards of the International Labor Organization.
In a related move, the Hershey Co., the largest chocolate maker in North America, issued its first corporate social responsibility report Monday, the birthday of founder Milton Hershey. Hershey said it encourages and trains its suppliers to meet fair labor practices and has taken steps to help increase incomes and build schools in Africa. The company is part of the Harkin-Engel Protocol.
Critics said the Hershey report failed to show it's making any progress on child labor.
The human rights and environment groups Global Exchange, Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum and Oasis USA, in a report Monday, said the company should have a system in place to make sure its cocoa doesn't come from farms with labor abuses and make the information available.
The groups called on Hershey to adopt the Fair Trade label for all of its products by 2022.
Fair Trade certifies that farmers are paid a fair price and that social, environmental and labor standards — including the prohibition of forced child labor — are enforced.
THE 2001 SERIES ON SLAVERY ON COCOA FARMS
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