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NGOs slam industry inaction over child labour

Around 1.8 million children are part of cocoa bean farming Reuters

A decade after leaders of the chocolate and cocoa industry pledged to help stop child labour in their sector, they have come under fire for not doing enough.

Non-governmental organisations say the Harkin-Engel Protocol signed on September 19, 2001 by eight top companies – including Swiss groups Nestlé and Barry Callebaut – has not been adequately enforced and now needs to be legally binding to make a difference.

The international coalition of NGOs, 10-Campaign, say importing countries must also do their part by forcing firms to undergo independent checks on their production processes.

The protocol’s main goal was to eliminate the “worst forms of child labour” in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Ivory Coast – child trafficking or forced labour. In particular, companies agreed to expand child labour prevention programmes in cocoa-producing countries.

But the results have fallen short, said Flurina Doppler, of the Swiss-based Berne Declaration, which is part of the campaign.

She cites a 2011 report by Tulane University in the United States, mandated by the American government to follow the progress of the protocol. It found that the companies involved had not satisfactorily implemented any of the protocol’s six targets (see sidebar).

Falling short

“There has been some progress, such as recognition and admission of the problem of child labour, which was ignored or denied in the past. But the overall situation has not significantly improved,” Doppler told

Industry funding is lacking and International Labour Organization (ILO) standards for cocoa sectors in Ivory Coast and Ghana have only been partially developed, said the report.

Around 60 per cent of the worldwide cocoa production comes from West Africa, with the bulk of the beans harvested in Ivory Coast, a particularly problematic country for child labour abuses. The Tulane report estimated that around 1.8 million children (aged under 15) were working in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Nestlé told that there had been progress since 2001, with the creation of the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative – one of the protocol targets – to promote responsible labour practices, as well as renewed “support” in 2010 by the signatory companies for a new framework for action for the protocol.

“PR exercise”

In the run-up to the protocol’s tenth anniversary, both the NGOs and the industry brought out their publicity machines.

In what the Berne Declaration branded “a PR exercise”, the current top players in the cocoa and chocolate industry pledged $2 million (SFr1.8 million) for a new ILO-led project to combat child labour in cocoa-growing communities in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The project plans to boost the capacity of governments and farmers to join the fight and to support the development of community-based monitoring systems.

“This historic agreement builds on our clear understanding of the global challenge of child labour in agriculture,” ILO programme spokeswoman Constance Thomas said earlier this month. 

However, the Berne Declaration, which keeps yearly tabs on fair trade practices by coffee and chocolate companies, said it was “neither a historic agreement nor a real commitment”.

Doppler said the $2 million pledge was “very little” when compared with the $8.5 billion combined marketing budget of some of the companies involved like Mars, Ferrero, Cadbury, Nestlé and Hershey’s.

Nestlé however argues that it is investing SFr110 million in its own Cocoa Plan launched in 2009 to bring together “all of the company’s activities to promote sustainable cocoa supply under one banner”.

Star power

Meanwhile another Swiss NGO, Solidar, has also been targeting coffee producers over child labour in recent weeks.

Nestlé’s Nespresso division has been grappling with a viral You Tube video that calls on the company to switch to fair trade capsules. It was viewed by more than 600,000 people on YouTube within a few days.

In a spoof on the Nespresso advertisements, an actor playing George Clooney narrowly avoids being hit by a piano but instead gets knocked out by a Nespresso sign. Viewers are encouraged to send messages to the real Clooney via the Solidar website, because he has the power to “change” Nespresso’s mind about using fair trade coffee in their capsules, Solidar said.

More than 36,000 people have already signed up to the campaign.

Within days Nestlé held a meeting with Solidar to talk about the video. The firm declined to comment on the campaign to

Solidar says that for the 50 centimes charged per Nespresso capsule, consumers expect fair trade. The NGO plans to enlarge the campaign to the entire coffee manufacturing sector.

“It’s clear that if the greater public is made aware of the bad working conditions of coffee farmers that this will exert real pressure on multinationals like Nestlé. It will affect the expectations of coffee consumers who don’t want an aftertaste of exploitation,” Solidar spokesman Alexandre Mariéthoz told

Article – Status

1.a. Commit significant resources – Insufficient

b. Acknowledge problem – yes

2. a. Form advisory group by 2001 – yes in part

b. Formulate remedies – no

3. Sign joint statement by 2001 recognising need to:

a. End worst forms of child labour – yes

b. Identify development alternatives for children afterwards – no

4. Stakeholders sign binding memo of cooperation by 2002 on:

a. Research – yes

b. Information exchange – yes

c. Action to enforce international and mutually agreed standards – no

d. Independent monitoring of standards – no

5. Establish joint foundation by 2002 to:

a. Do field projects – yes (International Cocoa Initiative)

b. Implement best practice – no

6. Develop and implement industry-wide standards of public certification by July 2005 – no

(Source: report by Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer, Tulane University)

The protocol brings together industry, governments in West Africa, NGOs, farmers groups and experts with a view to raising labour standards.

The protocol was drawn up as a framework for the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derivative products and aims for this to be done in a way that complies with the International Labour Organization Convention 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

The agreement was signed on September 19, 2001 by industry groups: the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (now the Chocolate Council of the National Confectioners Association). Signatories were: Guittard, Mars, World’s Finest Chocolate, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Nestlé US, Blommer Chocolate, Hershey Food Corporation and Barry Callebaut.

The protocol was named after the US Senator Tom Harkin and US Representative Eliot Engel who spearheaded it.

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