MEPs call for end to child labour in cocoa trade

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Europeans are among the world’s biggest consumers and producers of chocolates, but members of the European Parliament want to stronger measures to ensure that a key ingredient in candy and confections wasn't harvested with child labour.

MEPs yesterday (14 March) approved a resolution calling on the European Commission to get tougher in negotiating trade agreements to protect young children from being used in the production of cocoa beans for chocolates, make-up and other consumer products.

“All policymakers and stakeholders involved in cocoa production must live up to their responsibilities to eradicate child labour from cocoa production," Portuguese MEP Vital Moreira (Socialists and Democrats), the parliamentary rapporteur on the resolution, said during a debate on the resolution.

The resolution – approved in Strasbourg by a show of hands – also calls for creating “accredited, third-party-audited traceability for the supply chain.”

It urges governments, industries and traders to press growers and producers to abide by conventions on child workers under the International Labour Organization (ILO).

An estimated 200 million children work in cultivating cocoa in the main producing regions of West Africa, Southeast Asia and and Latin America. UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures show Africa accounts for 78% of the global trade, with Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana the world’s biggest exporters.

British MEP Robert Sturdy backs a labelling system on cocoa production so consumers “can vote with their wallets to end child labour”.

"All children deserve the best start possible in life,” the Conservative MEP said in a statement after the Parliamentary vote. “Unfortunately too many children are failing to get even the most basic education because of their use in cocoa production.”

Cocoa lovers

Despite economic stagnation in rich nations, cocoa demand is growing globally, with Europe accounting for 40% of consumption.

International labour conventions, EU trade deals and efforts by industry groups such as the European Cocoa Association all aim to stop exploitation of pre-teens. Yet children remain a vital part of the workforce on family cocoa farms and in rural processing centres that are under the radar screens of most monitors.

A 2007 ILO report notes that 30% of child workers in Cameroon were under 14 and required to work up to 11 hours per day, often in hazardous jobs such as spraying pesticides without protective gear and carrying heavy loads.

The International Labor Rights Forum, a campaign group in Washington, says thousands of children working in West African cocoa plantations are victims of trafficking and slavery.

The EU’s Contonou Agreement that promotes trade and development cooperation with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, calls for partner governments to comply with ILO standards on child labour.

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