Take kids off cocoa farms

Toledo Blade

THE chocolate industry has had nearly four years to implement a system certifying that children do not work on its cocoa-growing farms. So now it's unacceptable that some in the industry won't meet a July 1 voluntary deadline to certify that they are in compliance.

In 2001, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, both Democrats, developed an industry-wide protocol designed to eliminate the use of child slaves on cocoa farms in West Africa. The chocolate industry was among the stakeholders that agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, as it's known, to give a public accounting of labor practices on cocoa farms by this coming July.

Now, to its shame, some in the industry say they doubt they can meet the deadline in Ivory Coast and Ghana, two key cocoa-producing areas, even after they were given two more years to develop a systemwide certification policy.

"We have cajoled, negotiated, held meetings, and conducted endless conversations with the various stakeholders. But the time for talk has passed. Children are suffering," Senator Harkin said. "The industry must make clear when and if it intends to live up to its commitments."

Socially conscious U.S. chocolate lovers can't enjoy the candy when as many as 15,000 children from some of the most destitute nations are forced to work on cocoa plantations.

Ghana and Ivory Coast produce more than 40 percent of the world's cocoa beans, and human rights activists say a shocking 90 percent of the cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast use child slaves.

Although a spokesman for at least one group in the industry, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, says it is committed to meeting the July 1 deadline, Mr. Engel is not persuaded. He hasn't been convinced the industry is "not just stringing us along."

If those who meet the deadline get to label their products indicating no children were involved in the productions, other chocolate makers will notice. The senator and congressman are toying with legislation that would require such labeling. This is one industry that very much needs and deserves a nationwide guilt trip.

It's not clear if chocolate manufacturers' potential failure to comply with the protocol could affect the industry's bottom line. What is clear is that it should.