Child Slavery in Africa Continues 10 Years After Cocoa Protocol

Children are still being sold by slave traffickers in Africa and forced to work on cocoa farms that help produce chocolate products for many companies over ten years after U.S. lawmakers diligently tried to initiate measures to stop the inhumane practice.

In 2001, two U.S. lawmakers tried to stop child labor in the cocoa industry, according to CNN. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin worked with Rep. Eliot Engel of New York to put a protocol in place that would end the practice permanently.

The chocolate industry initially resisted, but the Cocoa Protocol, or Harkin-Engel Protocol went into effect in 2011. The voluntary protocol, which was signed by the heads of the chocolate industry, was designed to stop the worst forms of child labor and to make sure the cocoa trade was child-labor free.

The Cocoa Protocol called for the public reporting by African governments, establishment of an audit system and poverty remediation by 2005. That deadline was extended to 2010.

"We felt like the public ought to know about it, and we ought to take some action to try to stop it," Sen. Harkin said. "How many people in America know that all this chocolate they're eating is being produced by terrible child labor."

Engel said that the intent was to achieve and end of child slave labor in cocoa fields.

Young boys as young as eleven years old are being sold into slavery and forced to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, Africa, according to a case study titled, "Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in the Ivory Coast."

The study indicates that the youngsters endure inhumane conditions and extreme abuse. Agents hang around bus stations looking for vulnerable children begging for food or money. They promise the children gifts, such as bicycles and money to send their families.

Instead, they are sold to cocoa farmers who need cheap labor. The trafficking also occurs in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, with Mali being a main supplier and Ivory Coast being the main receiver. Children are being forced to sleep on wooden planks in tiny rooms on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.

According to a 2009 Human Rights Report on Ivory Coast by the U.S. Department of State, hundreds of thousands of children are still involved in the child labor on cocoa farms in the country.

According to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), these child workers labor for long hours, using dangerous tools and face exposure to dangerous pesticides and grueling heat. They also endure frequent beatings and other cruel treatment.

The ILRF also indicates that despite the Cocoa Protocol, cocoa companies still reap profits from child labor with children being smuggled from other African countries to work on cocoa farms.

Ivory Coast, which produces 40 percent of the world's supply of cocoa had been embroiled in Civil War from 2002 to 2004. The cocoa industry claims the war has added to existing economic problems and says it has prohibited their efforts to stop child labor.

A Tulane University researcher that spent five years in the Ivory Coast said that he has seen very little implementation of the original commitments to end child slavery, according to CNN.

"Unfortunately, over the last 10 years we have seen very little implementation of the actual commitments," Chris Bayer said.

Bayer's study, titled "Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector: In Ivory Cost and Ghana," indicated the majority of the country's farmers had not been effected by the industry's efforts to stop child labor.

Bayer also spent time in Ghana monitoring the protocol's plan and researching child labor practices. He also said that the cocoa industry did not live up to the Harkin-Engel protocol and children are still working.

Rabola Kagohi, director of the International Cocoa Initiative (the chocolate industry's answer to fighting child labor and trafficking), disagrees with Bayer and told CNN that the situation has improved.

"I think the situation has improved exponentially," Kagohi said. "Today, the message is physically getting through...There are some results."

According to CNN reports, the results are not being felt by those who still work in the cocoa fields. Children reportedly are showing physical proof of long-grueling work hours, while they yearn for education. One youngster said that he wishes he could go to school and learn to read and write, but he doesn't know how to leave the farm.

Engel said the situation makes him angry and the chocolate companies have done enough.

Hershey sent CNN a statement saying that they had developed and lead all significant public and private programs related to he cocoa sector in West Africa over the past decade. They say the programs relate to farming modernization, health, education, technology access and community well-being.

Kraft-Cadbury also sent a statement saying they are working with others in the cocoa industry to support the Harkin-Engel Protocol to work towards eliminating the worst forms of child-labor.

Nestle made a statement saying that they believe child labor has no place in their supply chain and they have firmly committed to eradicate unacceptable practices.

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