Sen. Harkin Speech against Chocolate Industry and Child Labor

Congressional Record

Congressional Record Online via GPO Access

June 14, 2005

Mr. HARKIN Senate Speech

Mr. President, it is with a sense of sorrow that I rise today to speak about the practice of abusive and exploitative child labor, as well as to recognize the International Labor Organization's World Day against child labor, which occurred on June 12. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of children are still forced to work illegally for little or no pay. The ILO has set aside this day to give a voice to these helpless children who toil away in hazardous conditions.

We should not only think about these children on June 12. We should think about this last vestige of slavery every day. I have remained steadfast in my commitment to eliminate abusive and exploitative child labor. It was in 1992 that I first introduced a bill to ban all products made by abusive and exploitative child labor from entering the United States.

Since I introduced that bill, we have made some progress in raising awareness about this scourge. In June of 1999, ILO Convention 182, concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of child labor, was adopted unanimously in the ILO and here in the U.S. Senate. This was the first time ever that an ILO convention was approved without one dissenting vote. In record time the Senate ratified ILO Convention 182 with a bipartisan, 96-0 vote.

For the first time in history the world spoke with one voice in opposition to abusive and exploitative child labor. Countries from across the political, economic, and religious spectrum--from Jewish to Muslim, from Buddhists to Christians--came together to proclaim unequivocally that abusive and exploitative child labor is a practice which will not be tolerated and must be abolished. Gone is the argument that abusive and exploitative child labor is an acceptable practice because of a country's economic circumstances. Gone is the argument that abusive and exploitative child labor is acceptable because of cultural tradition. And gone is the argument that abusive child labor is a necessary evil on the road to economic development. When this convention was approved, the United States and the international community as a whole laid those arguments to rest and laid the groundwork to begin the process of ending the scourge of abusive and exploitative child labor.

In 2001, Congressman Engel and I, along with the international chocolate industry, negotiated the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This agreement was precipitated by news reports that same year on the abuse of children on cocoa farms. We knew that if consumers learned about the brutal realities of cocoa production, their taste of chocolate would sour. Sales--and delicate African economies--would plummet. But that was not our goal. We wanted to stop child slavery, not chocolate


We viewed a legislative remedy not as a first resort but as a last resort. So, in good faith, we engaged the major chocolate companies in lengthy, intense negotiations. The result was the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The companies agreed to join with other stakeholders to produce an agreement for eliminating the worst forms of child and slave labor throughout the chain of chocolate production, and to do so expeditiously. They also agreed to implement an industrywide voluntary certification system to give a public accounting of labor practices in cocoa-growing countries. This would enable consumers to make better-informed choices.

There are an estimated 1.5 million small cocoa farms spread across four desperately poor countries in Africa. The Protocol established a public-private partnership enlisting government, industry, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations and consumer groups. The U.S. Government's role is to ensure that whatever certification plan emerges from this process is credible and effective in eliminating abusive child and slave-labor practices in the cocoa industry and ensuring the rehabilitation of the victims.

Unfortunately, the chocolate industry has been slow to meet all of the terms of the Protocol. July 1, 2005, is the deadline for full implementation of the certification system. That is just 3 short weeks away. While I remain hopeful that industry will continue to engage in the elimination of child labor beyond July 1, it is clear that the exact terms of the Protocol will not be met by July. No public certificate has yet been issued. And only small regions of Ghana and Cote d'Ivore have been monitored for child labor. Nevertheless, we are continuing discussions with the chocolate industry and continue to believe that the Harkin-Engel Protocol remains a possible framework for

engagement to fix the enormous problem of abusive and exploitative child and slave labor in the cocoa-growing countries of West Africa.

Forced child labor remains a significant problem. According to the ILO, there are some 246 million child laborers in the world; 73 million of these are under the age of 10, and approximately 22,000 children die in work related accidents every year. Abusive and exploitative child

labor is prevalent in many parts of the world, including here in America.

Abusive child labor should be a thing of the past. The United Sates should not continue to turn a blind eye to this scourge. It is time that we enforce our laws and international standards and ensure that countries are raising their standards on this issue. If we did our part to ensure that children were learning and not laboring, there would not be a need to have a day dedicated to end child labor.