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Cacao and Child Labor #fb

September 16, 2010

sweet talk: Recommitting to the children

By Bernard Pacyniak

Candy Industry

On Monday, the global chocolate and cocoa industry, the U.S. Department of Labor, Senator Tom Harkin and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, together with representatives from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), launched a new “Framework of Action” in support of preventing child labor abuses prevalent in cocoa farming.

The $7-million commitment, $2 million of which go to a new public/private partnership led by the International Labor Organization’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor and $5 million of which go to the expansion of current programs, is aimed at encouraging safe labor practices, boosting family incomes and helping at-risk children in Western Africa.

Unfortunately, despite the money that’s already been invested in eradicating this problem, child labor abuses still occur. Nevertheless, there’s been plenty of progress, and this reaffirms the commitment of the chocolate and cocoa industry to remain focused on the task at hand. I recognize there’s a bevy of critics out there who contend the industry isn’t moving fast enough on this (even I was one of them when the reports first surfaced), but this is a problem that spans borders, cultures and economies. Civil unrest, poverty, lack of infrastructure, local graft and government corruption all hinder stamping out this abuse.

But the industry is getting better at determining how to complete its mission. As Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), said at the historic get-together, everyone involved in the effort over the past 10 years has “learned a great deal.”

As he points out, “Only through partnership, shared responsibility and coordinated action can we make a lasting impact on this societal and developmental challenge.” It’s also important to note that Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has announced that the U.S. government will help fund the Framework of Action agreement with a $10-million grant.

Since 1995, Congress has appropriated approximately $780 million to the U.S. Department of Labor to support efforts to combat exploitive child labor around the world, resulting in the rescue of approximately 1.4 million children from the worst forms of child labor.

We often hear disparaging remarks about the role of government, the lack of industry sensitivity to human issues, and the lack of organization and waste within nonprofit groups. It’s really encouraging to see the United States, meaning the government, and leading chocolate companies as well as the NCA and the World Cocoa Foundation take an active role in making child labor a non-issue in the future. Partnering can work.

Which brings us to another headline, somewhat related, that jumped out at me this week. This past Monday, The Hershey Co., on the anniversary of Milton Hershey’s birthday, launched its first Corporate Social Responsibility report. ( I commend the company for spelling out its efforts at being a corporate good citizen, although probably a bit late in comparison to other multinationals.

But just shortly after Hershey released its report, several nonprofit groups — the Global Exchange, Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum and Oasis USA, to be specific — lashed out at the nation’s largest chocolate manufacturer with their report: “Time to Raise the Bar: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility for The Hershey Co.”

Available at each group’s Web site (I’ll give just one,, the groups assail Hershey for failure to ensure that its cocoa purchases are not tainted by child labor, that it refuses to identify its cocoa suppliers and that it has no third-party certification.

In the end, the groups demand that Hershey commit to 100% Fair Trade certification for at least one of its top five selling bars by 2012 and the majority of its cocoa products by 2022.

Linking Fair Trade certification to the eradication of child labor abuse in West Africa is somewhat simplistic, I contend. And while I admit that it would be good corporate and business policy to have some kind of certification, there are larger and smaller companies that are working directly with the farmers to ensure good beans and good practices. In a way, they are doing their own certification policy, one that goes beyond “Fair Trade.”

I think the aforementioned groups lost the higher ground with me when — after proposing third-party certification — they simply embraced Fair Trade as the only vehicle to do so. Organizations such as Barry Callebaut, Cargill and others have embraced UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification programs, partly because the volumes often are well beyond Fair Trade certification capabilities.

One can argue whether Hershey is doing enough with its corporate social responsibility programs, but I find it unproductive to call someone out on such an issue and fail to provide room for dialogue.

Child labor abuse is not an easy fix; anyone who’s been to West Africa (including yours truly) can attest. And while partnering can be slow, it does provide progress.


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