Lawmaker Shuns Valentine Candy, Cites Slavery Fear

ABC News

Feb. 10, 2005 - With Valentine's Day approaching, it's fine to be a slave to chocolate, but some U.S. lawmakers want to make sure their chocolate wasn't produced by slaves.

Sen. Tom Harkin, who in 2001 was instrumental in developing an industry protocol aimed at eliminating forced child labor in processing cocoa beans in West Africa, said on Thursday that that agreement was near collapse.

"This Valentine's Day, I am going to buy my wife flowers instead of chocolate. The chocolate companies have the leverage and clout to stop this suffering. But if corporate responsibility is lacking, Congress will be obliged to act," the Iowa Democrat said.

A legislative approach, which Harkin and his allies put aside a few years ago when the voluntary system appeared to be on track, would require chocolate products sold in the United States to be labeled to certify that they met International Labor Organization standards on forced child labor.

An aide to Harkin said the industry had informed him that it no longer planned on meeting July 2005 deadlines for setting up a certification process, but may still meet with him next month for a progress report and to discuss alternatives.

Forced child labor and trafficking on West African cocoa plantations were the focus of exposes several years ago and triggered an international outcry. Human rights groups have reported more recently that children are still being exploited.

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