26th March 2010

The big issue: children and chocolate

The run up to Easter, when the British prepare to chomp their way through 80m Easter eggs, is the traditional time of year for guilt fuelled exposés of the continuing problem of child labour in the cocoa industry.

A recently aired Panorama documentary sees a renewed media focus on the issue in the UK, one of many since harrowing stories of West African child slaves first came to global public attention ten years ago.

That original media and public outcry paved the way for the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary code of self-regulation that has defined chocolate industry efforts to tackle the worse forms of child labour in the supply chain over the past nine years.

Children and chocolate have long been associated; it is because chocolate is such a potent symbol of the innocent joys of childhood that revelations about children being trafficked or forced to undertake hazardous and excessive work on cocoa farms are so incendiary.

For this blog post, Trading Visions reflects on some of these issues, with contributions from four authors exploring the intersection of childhood and chocolate.

What has big chocolate been doing about child labour in the cocoa industry?
by Michael Niemann

Child labour and cocoa: whose voices prevail?
by Amanda Berlan

Chocolate and childhood in the North
by Catherine Phipps

Report from a child labour workshop in Ghana
by Tom Allen

25th March 2010

Panorama documentary on chocolate

A BBC Panorama documentary filmed in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire was aired last night that highlighted the continuing problem of child labour in the cocoa industry, ten years after the issue was brought to global media attention with harrowing stories of West African child slaves in 2000 and 2001.

It has been nine years since international public concern led to the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary code of self-regulation created by the chocolate industry to prevent the worst forms of child labour in the supply chain. The protocol was originally created to stave off proposed US legislation that would have required all chocolate sold in America to state on the label that it is “child slave labour free”. Unfortunately, little progress has been made.

The focus in the Panorama documentary on incidences of child labour among farmers supplying cocoa to two Fairtrade cooperatives in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire reminds us that the Fairtrade Mark does not guarantee “no child labour”, it guarantees a fair price to farmers and a Fairtrade premium to farmers' organisations. However Fairtrade does clearly emerge in the documentary as the only credible system that can trace cocoa back to individual farms and thus take remedial action when breaches of standards on child labour are identified.