16 March 2012: In a major breakthrough, the Members of European Parliament on Wednesday March 14, 2012, gave consent by way of passing a resolution to renew the International Cocoa Agreement on production and trade, but took the opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of child labour in cocoa fields. Close on the heels of the reaction that was meted out for a Textile Protocol to the EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement due to proof that forced child labour had been used in Uzbekistan's cotton fields, the MEPs had called for a ban on child labour in trade and the possible introduction of "child labour free" product labelling in the past. It is worth noting that EU consumes around 40% of world’s cocoa.
MEPs emphasized that further research is needed to provide verified statistical data on child labour and child trafficking in Western Africa. Many children work to help their families survive and not all this work should be classified as child labour. However, studies in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire suggest that children working on cocoa farms are exposed to pesticides and some may have been trafficked, says the resolution.
MEPs urged the Commission to consider proposing a traceability mechanism to detect whether goods are produced by forced child labour. International Cocoa Agreement partners may also help to ensure traceability throughout the cocoa supply chain or introduce accredited, third-party-audited traceability for the cocoa supply chain, they claimed.
"Appalling numbers of children are engaged in hazardous activities on cocoa fields. The new International Cocoa Agreement will give us more instruments to address this issue but more needs to be done. All policymakers and stakeholders involved in cocoa production must live up to their responsibilities to eradicate child labour from cocoa production", said rapporteur Vital Moreira (SD, PT), in a debate with Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs before the vote.
Expressing deep concern over the hazardous conditions under which children work on the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour, “In spite a decade of focus and intervention to tackle child labour in cocoa farms in West Africa, we are not seeing the results we had hoped for.” Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked into slavery and work in the cocoa fields at little or no wages are physically and sexually exploited. Handling of chemicals and prolonged exposure to pesticides make these children prone to incorrigible respiratory and dermatological diseases. Negligent and unassisted working with heavy farm equipments and sharp tools leave many children crippled for life. Looming political instability in Ivory Coast has further worsened the plight of child labourers.
Citing the findings of a research commissioned by Tulane University, Mr. Satyarthi said, “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years work in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well being.” With about 40% children working in cocoa fields of Ivory Coast are not enrolled in schools and that only 5% of Ivorian children are paid for their work. UNICEF further estimates nearly 35,000* Ivorian children working on cocoa farms as victims of trafficking.
Mr. Satyarthi finally said that the renewal of International Cocoa and Production brings issue of child labour in cocoa farming central to the cocoa supply and value chain, but needs to be supplemented by coherent and collective approaches with all the key stakeholders.