Slave-labour chocolate must go: human rights groups

A human rights group has launched a campaign against child labour in the cocoa industry.

Global Exchange announced its "Fair Trade Cocoa" campaign on Valentine's Day. The group wants to publicize the plight of children being used in the coffee and cocoa industries of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo produce most of the world's cocoa. Farmers there also use child labour to produce that cocoa.

Global Exchange is trying to get consumers to write to chocolate producers such as Hershey's, Nestle and Mars to change their purchasing habits. It wants the companies to commit to "purchasing at least five per cent of their cocoa as Fair Trade Certified."

The U.S. State Department estimates 15,000 children, aged nine to 12, are "enslaved" on farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Last year, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association insisted it was not responsible for the problem because chocolate companies do not own the plantations.

Global Exchange is collecting support for its campaign and wants consumers to restrict their chocolate purchases to fair trade chocolate as much as possible.

It's also pressuring the CMA to add more restrictions to its four-year plan to eliminate child labour from cocoa farms.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in September by the CMA, the World Cocoa Foundation and manufacturers such as Hershey's and Mars and several labour organizations.

The protocol establishes independent monitoring and certification of "slave-free" farms to be implemented by mid-2005.

Human rights groups contend the protocol doesn't go far enough because it is voluntary.

"It does nothing to address the root causes," says Nina Luttinger of TransFair USA.

"If certification is voluntary, who will enforce it?" asks Anita Sheth of Save the Children Canada. "Who will pay for it? What will happen to the farmers?"

Advocacy groups point out the protocol doesn't forbid slavery, just the use of children as slave labour.

In Canada, products sporting the Fair Trade logo guarantee that cocoa producers have distributed proceeds equitably and used environmentally sound farming methods. It also means farms are monitored for adherence to standards.

La Siembra of Ottawa is a fair trade company. Its cocoa powder and hot chocolate is now offered in three of Canada's largest grocery chains Overwaitea, Safeway, Sobey's.

TransFair Canada is working with other chocolate producers to certify fair trade cocoa products. Its Web site lists fair trade retailers across the country.