Saturday, April 28, 2007

Child Slavery and the Chocolate Factory

From the blog, Socialist Banner

The BBC is reporting that child labour, in fact, near enough actual slavery, remains an unresolved problem in the Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer.

A 2002 report by the industry body, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, put the number of children working in dangerous conditions in cocoa in West Africa at 284,000 in 2002, 200,000 of them in Ivory Coast. Many children on cocoa farms don't get to school, some exchange their childhood for work, a roof over their head and a meal a day. Others have been sent by their parents into virtual slavery, suffering beatings and abuse. Progress in eradicating child labour has been slow.

Naturally not very particularly good news for the chocolate manufacturers in the more developed countries. There can be no worse PR for a chocolate company than news that children in West Africa - the source for the bulk of the world's cocoa - are being forced to pick beans used to make chocolate for the children in the West.

A voluntary industry initiative, called the Harkin-Engel protocol, was set up in 2001. Its initial aim was to have a system in place to monitor labour conditions on cocoa farms by July 2005. That deadline shifted has now towards a 2008 deadline to monitor labour conditions in 50% of farms in Ghana, the world's number two producer, and neighbouring in Ivory Coast.

Mme. Amouan Acquah, the government official responsible for child labour issues in Ivory Coast, makes the excuse that "We are in a state of war. We cannot make such guarantees." Yet with or without war, Ivory Coast's cocoa has always made it to the world market. Critics say that if the cocoa can get to market even in times of conflict, then it should also be possible to monitor labour conditions on the farm.

Mme Acquah points out "The issue at the heart of this [child labour] is poverty."

In the words of cocoa farmer Eugene Djedje "No one is obliged to send a child to school. If you don't have money you don't go."

Some major companies that knowingly use chocolate produced by slave labor:
- Hersheys
- M&M/Mars
- Nestle
- Ben & Jerry's
- Kraft
- Toblerone
- Hauser Chocolates

Alan Johnstone