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November 27, 2011

Ivory Coast cocoa farms child labour: little change

by Humphrey Hawksley

Global chocolate companies have been told they have a moral responsibility to do more to stop children working on cocoa farms in West Africa.

A recent report commissioned by the US government found that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa were involved in growing cocoa. Many were at risk of being injured by machetes, pesticides or through other hazards.

The Ivory Coast exports nearly half the world's cocoa. After years of civil war, the new government says ending poverty and child labour is a priority and the chocolate industry must be involved.

"There is a moral obligation," said Gilbert Kone Kafana, minister for labour and social affairs. "The chocolate companies have a duty to engage with us. We need to build roads, schools, hospitals and social centres; anything that would allow Ivory Coast to progress. This development is necessary for farmers to have a good life, and it is in the interest of the industry to work with us."

The chocolate industry is worth more than $90m (£56.5m) a year, and more than 40% of people in the Ivory Coast live below the poverty line.

Ten years ago, under international pressure, chocolate companies signed an international protocol to stop the practice of dangerous child labour. They promised to "commit significant resources" and act "as a matter of urgency."

But the report by Tulane University in the US, found that the chocolate industry's funding since 2001 had "not been sufficient" and it needed to do more. Scarring work

The sight of children carrying machetes or pesticide equipment is common throughout Ivory Coast's cocoa belt. More than 800,000 children here are believed to do some form of cocoa-related work.

Under the present system, once sold to market, it is impossible to trace exactly where the beans came from - and whether or not young children are being forced to work to produce them.

The chocolate industry has sponsored some projects such as in the village of Campement Paul, near the city of San Pedro. In 2008 a small school was built, for which the villagers had to pay half of the $20,000 (£12,570) costs.

It can accommodate about 150 children. But the villagers say that another 400 in the community still have no school to go to.

The chocolate industry concedes that more needs to be done, but says that even since 2009 its programmes have helped hundreds of thousands of cocoa farming families and more than one million children. Last year, under continuing pressure, the chocolate industry signed another agreement - this time to cut by 70% the number of children working in dangerous conditions by 2020.

There is, though, some difference over the figures. The US study found that between 2001 and 2009, less than 4% of people in Ivory Coast's cocoa-growing communities had been helped by the industry's programmes, and about 33,000 children.

The chocolate companies say they have done much more. But the US Department of Labor, a signatory to the new agreement, backs the Tulane report, saying its figures are "credible and reliable."

If that is the case, even if the 2020 target is achieved, almost a quarter of a million children would still be at risk, harvesting cocoa for global chocolate companies.


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