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Combating Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry

In 2012, CNN’s Freedom Project released a documentary called “Chocolate’s Child Slaves,” where CNN reporter David McKenzie went to the Ivory Coast to investigate child labor issues. The investigation came 10 years after the Harkin-Engel Protocol (Cocoa Protocol) was signed into law in September 2001.

Cocoa is a major export in West Africa, with 70-75 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa beans grown on small farms in the region. In this area, many children grow up in extreme poverty and have to begin working to support their families. Some children are even sold by family members to human traffickers or to owners of cocoa farms, or abducted from villages in nearby areas, including Burkina Faso and Mali.

Ghana and the Ivory Coast currently produce about 70 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa and also have an extreme child labor problem. Any children who work on cocoa farms or plantations are exposed to health hazards, use dangerous equipment and tools and are subjected to physically demanding work. Many of these children are then also unable to go to school.

In 2001, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation to require a labeling system to be put into place in the chocolate industry. The ultimate compromise between the government and the industry was to require chocolate companies to volunteer to certify they had stopped using child labor.

Eventually, the “Cocoa Protocol” required African governments to publicly release information and also included the creation of an audit system and ways to alleviate poverty in the area by 2005. This deadline was moved to 2008 and then to 2010, but today, many say that the requirements have still not been met in the area.

Two years after the release of CNN’s Freedom Project’s documentary, CNN went back to West Africa to see if any progress had been made in fighting child labor in the $110 billion industry. It is now estimated that up to 800,000 children work in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast and live in extreme poverty.

In addition, the cocoa industry in West Africa is struggling to meet increasing demand for chocolate around the world. The demand is largely coming from emerging markets, with about 1.3 million people in China beginning to buy chocolate more frequently.

In order to deal with this major increase in demand as well as fight both poverty and child labor, many chocolate companies have started to invest their money in the farmers, many of whom are the poorest members of the population.

Nestlé’s “Cocoa Plan” plans to spread awareness about the issue of child labor in the industry and to also build schools in rural areas in the Ivory Coast. Nestlé has also pledged $120 million to be given over a period of 10 years, and are planning to give 12 million new disease-resistant and high-yielding cocoa trees by 2016.

American company Cargill has its own “Cocoa Plan,” and has founded 1,200 schools in the Ivory Coast to teach good agricultural practices to 60,000 farmers. By educating these farmers, they hope to end child labor.

Many hope that collaboration between chocolate companies, governments and NGOs will be enough to alleviate poverty in West Africa, which many consider the source of the child labor problem. For now, the consensus among all groups is to help farmers and their families get out of poverty and prevent young children from being forced to work and endanger themselves.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNN (1), CNN (2), Food Empowerment Project, International Labor Rights Forum, Huffington Post