7 million children are suffering in Europe’s coffee supply chain

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

File photo. The wife and child of an Indonesian coffee farmer sit inside their house in Pekon Hujung, Belalau, West Lampung District, Indonesia, on 13 August 2010. [Bagus Indahono/EPA/EFE]

The coffee, tea and cocoa consumed in the European Union and even inside the European Commission buildings are produced with slave and child labour, writes Fernando Morales-de la Cruz.

Fernando Morales-de la Cruz is founder of @cafeforchange & @cartoons4change

President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to have “zero tolerance” for child labour in EU trade, and asserted a vision and priorities to have an EU that stands up for justice and human rights.  She stressed that the EU economy must prioritize “social fairness and prosperity” for all people. While these are ambitious, promising steps, such aspirations are useless unless effective action is taken.

Sadly, child labour continues to increase in the EU supply chain of coffee, cocoa, and many other agricultural products. Child labour negates social fairness, equality, and justice, and weakens and threatens the rule of law.

Unfair Trading Practices throughout the EU and among multinational corporations violate EU Competition Laws.  False “development aid” initiatives funded by the EU and its member states and the lack of meaningful commitment to the rule of law fuel misery, hunger, malnutrition, child labour, and forced migration in the EU supply chain.

It is safe to say that the coffee, tea and cocoa consumed in the European Union and even in the European Commission are produced with slave and child labour. This includes many products that Europe brands as “Fairtrade”, but are actually certified only to deceive its own citizens.  As President von der Leyen and all Commissioners know, EU and member states’ financing of deceptive marketing and false advertising is illegal, therefore must be stopped.

In this respect, I submitted six questions to President von der Leyen:

  1. How seriously does the European Commission take its legal obligations to defend the rule of law, human rights and, especially, the rights of millions of defenceless children used for cheap labour as part of exploitative trade business models of multinational corporations like those that control the coffee, cocoa and tea industries, and so many others?
  2. The number of children working as cheap labour in the EU supply chain of coffee, cocoa, and tea is higher than Brussels’ population. Does the European Commission know how many millions of children are being exploited as cheap child labour in its supply chain?
  3. Do you have a task force working to end these unacceptable, cruel and illegal business models? Which Commissioners are involved?  Since when does this task force exist?
  4. If there is no task force, and the goal is to have ZERO TOLERANCE to child labour in EU trade, what is the delay in creating such an entity?
  5. Does the European Commission maintain a list of the companies that sell products produced by child labour?
  6. The European Union is today the largest financial beneficiary of child labour in coffee and cocoa producing regions of the world. How can you or any other EU leader claim that Europe respects and defends the rule of law, child’s rights, and all human rights?

As it stands, the EU discriminates against exploited children and ignores their fundamental rights.  President von der Leyen is the mother of seven children, therefore she cannot overlook that more than 7 million children are suffering misery, hunger, and malnutrition in the rural communities that supply the EU’s coffee, tea, and cocoa.

While these poor children might be invisible to most European citizens, President von der Leyen, all Commissioners, and most journalists, know very well that they exist, even if the European media does not report much about them.  These poor children are innocent victims of the indifference of otherwise good people.  They are victims of cruel, exploitative, and illegal business models that generate tens of billions of euros in profits and tax revenues throughout Europe.

Considering that we just reached the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 31st anniversary of the Convention on Rights of the Child, and that 2021 is officially the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, it is high time that the UDHR, children’s rights, and the rule of law are taken seriously. Europe must stop profiting from the exploitation of poor children.

The Mandatory “Human Rights” Due Diligence law being discussed in Europe, like the German Lieferkettengesetz, would consolidate Corporate Rights – using the Lex Mitior principle – and would dilute the human rights of all people in the supply chain of Europe.

We can only hope that President von der Leyen and all European institutions and governments will act in defence of human rights and rule of law with urgency and with all legal, political, and material means at their disposal.  Doing nothing is the same as consenting to, aiding, and abetting a tragic crime against humanity, perpetrated against millions of poor and defenceless children.

Subscribe to our newsletters