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Your Chocolate & Child Slavery

Natural Times, July/August/September 2012

By Paul Rutkovsky

One of the most boycotted companies in the world, Nestle, has again been criticized for purchasing cocoa from farms using child labor in West Africa. The first boycott, launched on July 7, 1977, proclaimed Nestle’s promotion of infant formula over breastfeeding was leading to health problems and death among infants in less developed countries. Now, the U.S. Government claims that more than 1.8 million children work in cocoa farms in that region of Africa. “Nestle and other chocolate manufacturers agreed to end the use of abusive and forced child labor on cocoa farms by July 1, 2005, but they failed to do so.” (International Labor Rights Forum).

The Ivory Coast is the source of half of the world’s cocoa. Ninety percent of cocoa plantations use slave labor and trafficked children who are beaten and forced to work many more hours a week than 40 to produce the cocoa. The work is dangerous and grueling. These children not only lose their freedom, but also the right to a basic education.

Traveling into the heart of the Ivory Coast in January 2012, a team of CNN journalists found that child labor, trafficking, and slavery are rife in a cocoa industry that produces some of the world’s best-known brands.

A little more history: After a series of news reports surfaced in 2001 about gross violations in the cocoa industry, lawmakers in the United States put immense pressure on the industry to change. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, teamed with Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, spearheaded the response. “How many people in America know that all this chocolate they are eating—candies and all of those wonderful chocolates—is being produced by terrible child labor?” After intense lobbying by the cocoa industry, lawmakers had little support from their colleagues in congress. What happened? A voluntary protocol was written, signed by the heads of the chocolate industry, to stop the worst forms of child labor “as a matter of urgency.” One of the key goals was to certify the cocoa trade as child labor free. The hope was that the protocol would end child labor in the cocoa fields. It did not.

A recent study by Tulane University says the industry’s efforts to stop child labor are “uneven” and “incomplete” and that 97 percent of Ivory Coast’s farmers have not been reached. Contrary to the assurance of action, Tulane’s research and CNN’s investigation could only find promises. The child labor continues.

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