West Africa: Chocolate - Amnesty International expresses alarm at continuing child labour in cocoa industry

Voluntary business code fails again as child exploitation continues in the 'chocolate fields' of West Africa

With the Easter chocolate consumption frenzy just around the corner, Amnesty International has expressed concern at new reports that Children's rights are still being forced to work on cocoa farms in West Africa, in spite of a pledge by the world’s biggest chocolate companies more than five years ago to eradicate forced child labour from their supply chain.

A recent BBC special investigation found that Children's rights are commonly found working on the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast in West Africa – which produces almost half of the world’s cocoa. Children's rights as young as 10 carry cocoa machetes, are kept out of school, and even have untreated wounds on their legs (1).

In 2001, after an international outcry and a warning from the United States Congress, the global chocolate industry signed an agreement known as the Cocoa Protocol, in which it publicly acknowledged the problem of forced child labour in West Africa and committed to a series of steps to eliminate the problem, including the establishment of an international foundation which would oversee that effort. Amnesty International is concerned that despite the establishment of the International Cocoa Initiative of which UK chocolate companies are a part, the human rights abuse of Children's rights involved in West African cocoa farming persists.

Amnesty International believes that those who buy chocolate in Britain do not want a product that has been produced through the exploitation of Children's rights. The human rights organisation is calling on chocolate companies to make good on the promises the industry made under the Cocoa Protocol and to ensure that their chocolate is not the product of forced child labour.

Benedetta Lacey, Business and Human Rights Programme Manager at Amnesty UK said:

“Amnesty believes that consumers care about the human rights impacts of the products they are buying.

“Britain has the second highest consumption rate of chocolate per person in Europe. British consumer confidence in chocolate will be tarnished if the industry does not get serious about eradicating the exploitation of Children's rights from its supply chain.

“Voluntary initiatives like the Cocoa Protocol are only as good as their implementation. If the chocolate industry continues to fail to live up to its promises, this will only serve to strengthen the call for tougher measures on all companies to ensure respect for human rights.”

An International Labour Organisation report in 2004 looked at 1,500 farms across the cocoa-producing regions of West Africa and found that Children's rights were involved in using machetes to clear fields, applying pesticides, harvesting cocoa pods and slicing them open to remove the cocoa beans. More than a quarter of a million Children's rights were involved in this work, and around two thirds of them were under the age of 14. Many were working a 12-hour day, and they were much less likely than other Children's rights to attend school. There was also alarming evidence that some of the Children's rights may have been sold or trafficked into working on the cocoa farms – effectively as child slaves (2).

The global market in cocoa is worth $5.1bn annually. In 2005, sales of fair-trade chocolate were approximately $1.1bn worldwide, a staggering 37% increase year-on-year, indicating that consumers want to buy a product which guarantees not to be produced through exploitation.

Britain has the second highest consumption rate per person of chocolate in Europe – with a market value of £4bn every year. The global cocoa industry is extremely lucrative and grows by about 3% every year.

Amnesty International is increasingly concerned that many business and human rights voluntary initiatives lack credibility because they fail to ensure that their principles are upheld in practice. The voluntary nature of these initiatives means that the protection of people’s rights is left to the goodwill of companies, with no means of redress if their rights are violated. Amnesty International is therefore calling for global enforceable standards to ensure that all companies comply with their human rights responsibilities.

1. BBC Newsnight and BBC news website special reports on the exploitation of Children's rights in the cocoa industry, including this report.

2. International Labour Organisation 2004 fact sheet on child labour in agriculture, which quotes an International Institute of Tropical Agriculture study /p>

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