Abidjan – West Africa’s cocoa industry is still trafficking children and using forced child labour despite nearly a decade of efforts to eliminate the practices, according to an independent audit published by Tulane University.
A US-sponsored solution called the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by cocoa industry members in 2001 to identify and eliminate cocoa grown using forced child labour.
A child-labour-free certification process was supposed to cover 50% of cocoa growing regions in West Africa by 2005 and 100% by the end of 2010.
However, independent auditors at Tulane University’s Payson Centre for International Development said in a late September report that efforts had not even come close to these targets.
“Hundreds of thousands of children are involved in work on cocoa farms,” the report said. Child trafficking for labour also continues virtually unabated as well, it said.
Thousands of children travel from impoverished neighbouring countries to the cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, where some of them live in substandard conditions and receive little or no pay.
Almost none of the children have any contact with NGOs or anti-child-labour organisations while working.
The Harkin-Engel Protocol set up community-based education and monitoring programmes in the Ivory Coast and Ghana – the world’s two largest cocoa growers – to improve the situation.
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an industry funded organisation charged with implementing the protocol, said because of the protocol, thousands of children were no longer working in exploitative conditions on cocoa plantations.
The Ivorian government admits that progress has been slower than anticipated, but points to several key advances.
Mokie Sigui, the head of the anti child labour task force at the Ministry of Labour said: “We passed a law prohibiting the worst forms of child labour last week.
“Some infractions carry 20 year prison sentences.”
Sigui said the government was building two youth centres in cocoa growing regions where exploited children could be identified and then put back into school.
Manufacturers in the chocolate industry have also set up projects to help keep kids in schools and off the plantations, but the poverty of many families in West Africa makes it impossible for them to pass up the temptation to send their children to work.
Several international certification bodies are currently working to certify sustainable cocoa farms across the region. Though only 4% of the world’s cocoa is now considered sustainable, that figure is projected to rise to over 40% by 2020.