Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Still Waiting for Harkin-Engel

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in September of 2001, at a moment when the world was preoccupied with other things. It was meant to be the beginning of the end of child slavery in the cacao fields of Western Africa. But it was really just a document and nothing more than a wish list. The reality is that today, right now, there are thousands of child workers. some of them virtual slaves, harvesting cacao pods on the vast plantations in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana which supply much of the world's ordinary chocolate. These children have never tasted finished chocolate, but they work long hours harvesting cacao pods with few options or protections. These are young children who are not in school. It's not much of a childhood.

This week, on Monday, it was announced that the United States government and the chocolate industry pledged a total of $17 million "to help end child labor, some of it forced and dangerous" in those two African countries.

"If there's one thing people around the world share in common it's our love of chocolate. But it is a bitter reality that the main ingredient in chocolate, cocoa, is produced largely by child labor," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, at a signing ceremony for a new agreement between industry, the Department of Labor, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Let's see it. Wouldn't it be great if just one big confectionary company could certify that their product was made without child labor? Right now, not one of them can make that declaration.


  1. Katherine;
    Hope you are well.At the press conference on Monday announcing the new commitment, everyone, including Senator Harkin, acknowledged that children do work in the worst forms of child labor but with their parents on small family farms. Also, I know of no system of certification that can absolutely guarantee that children of farmers had no part in the growing and harvesting of cocoa.

  2. Hi Susan!

    There really is no such certification, of course. But chances are that certain kinds of chocolate are less likely to have been produced with child labor.

    But there is a significant difference between child labor and child slave labor. Small family farms are not the biggest concern, as far as I know. The really inhumane treatment is what happens to the children who have been brought from other areas, across borders, to work on the large plantations.