- West Africa's cocoa plantations have long been ill-reputed for their use of forced labour and child labour, giving chocolate a bitter taste. In 2001, however, the global chocolate and cocoa industry bowed into pressure and promised to improve the poor labour conditions, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Already this year, monitoring and certificates are set to show results.
Representatives of the global chocolate and cocoa industry today released a "progress report" on their work against "abusive child labour practices" on cocoa plantations since 2001. The industry says it remains "firmly committed" to the commitments made almost four years ago and claims to have made significant progress.
In its report, the US-dominated industry says it "will complete development of effective, credible standards of certification for cocoa farming by 1 July." Already in the upcoming 2005-06 crop harvest, this will lead to an "expanded farm labour monitoring and independent verification across the West African cocoa region," the report says. Child slavery on cocoa plantations should therefore be widely avoided during that harvest.
The global chocolate and cocoa industry in 2001 however also was urged to address the deeper socio-economic problems that are behind the use of forced child labour on cocoa plantations. Here, the "progress report" only speaks about future "programmes to help cocoa farming families," which have yet to be financed or implemented. The industry however reaffirmed its commitment to "long-term improvements in social and economic conditions" for cocoa farmers.
According to the report, the problem of forced child labour was not as extensive as human rights groups had previously claimed. "While independent surveys conducted in 2002 found the vast majority of farmers to be farming cocoa responsibly, it remains critically important that we address any instances of abusive child or forced labour," said Lynn Bragg, President of the Washington-based Chocolate Manufacturers Association.
The progress so far had concentrated on labour monitoring and the development of an independent certification system, the report further revealed. A large-scale test of a cocoa farm labour monitoring programme was now underway in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Local organisations and community groups were conducting the monitoring, with visits to hundreds of cocoa farms to observe and collect information on labour practices.
A programme directed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was now identifying and assisting "at-risk children on cocoa farms" is up-and-running in cocoa farming communities in West Africa. Communities have been identified in Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Ghana, where "children might be at risk of being exposed to abusive labour practices."
In these areas, work has started to reduce the risks, the industry's report says. "Children at risk are being helped in a variety of ways - for example, being re-directed into schools or vocational training."
Some programmes had also started to help increase farm family incomes and awareness in these at-risk areas. "Farmer Field Schools" were said to have helped nearly 15,000 West African farm families in 2003-04. Further, efforts to develop cocoa farmer cooperatives in the region had benefited more than 28,000 farm families in 2004 alone, in Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria. This was said to be "an effective way to promote responsible labour practices and boost family incomes."
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