afrol News, 4 July - The global chocolate and cocoa industry, in partnership with organised labour unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), has established the 'International Cocoa Initiative' to work "towards responsible labour standards for cocoa growing, to eliminate abusive child labour practices in cocoa cultivation and processing."
After Western chocolate consumers increasingly were exposed to reports of "child slaves" working on cocoa plantations in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and other countries, the industry has been under pressure to take the general working condition problems seriously. A new initiative to fight abusive practices was launched with capital letters in the media yesterday.
- The International Cocoa Initiative solidifies the partnership between our industry and stakeholders, and creates a catalyst for change and progress, Larry Graham, president of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the USA told the press. "Together, we have created a mechanism that will focus the best research, expertise and ideas on this critical issue."
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was to serve as an advisor to the International Cocoa Initiative's Board of Directors. The Director of ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour, Frans Roselaers, commended the chocolate and cocoa industries for setting up the Foundation. "This is a farsighted initiative, and the program they have outlined is both thoughtful and action-oriented," he said. "We will encourage continued cooperation among all concerned parties and are ready to advice and assist."
The International Cocoa Initiative was to "support field projects and act as a clearinghouse for best practices that help eliminate abusive child and force labour in the growing of cocoa." Further it was to develop a joint action program of research, information exchange and action to enforce internationally recognised abusive child and forced labour standards in the growing of cocoa." It would also help determine the most appropriate, practical and independent means of monitoring and public reporting in compliance with these labour standards.
- With today's announcement, consumers will know that a portion of the cost of cocoa in their favourite products is going toward eliminating abusive child labour in the growing of cocoa, said the press release. "There is a lot of hard work ahead, but I am more confident than ever that we will succeed," a US board member said. The board of the new initiative is dominated by US and European industry and organisations.
In West Africa, explanations to the massive use of child labour on cocoa plantations are different. Cocoa production by normal farming means barely paid off and especially in Côte d'Ivoire, many commercial farms therefore need to employ child labour or even child slaves.
Ivorian Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan last year stated that farmers needed US$ 1.20 to US$ 1.80 a pound for their cocoa – "almost 10 times what they currently get." N'Guessan maintained the prices for cocoa have contributed to farmers’ reliance on child workers from impoverished neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, cocoa world market prices have almost doubled for a short while, but they still do not reach the levels needed to pay skilled workers. Last year, cocoa prices were record low and had been falling for several years. Most of the revenues from cocoa production go to the multinational cocoa and chocolate industry.
The world's biggest cocoa producers are Côte d'Ivoire, followed by Brazil and Ghana. Also East Africa and Equatorial Guinea are big cocoa producers in Africa. Focus on child labour has been particularly heavy in Côte d'Ivoire.