US food companies sued over forced child labor

Datamonitor NewsWire

Human rights group the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) has sued three US

companies on behalf of former child workers. The suits were filed against

companies Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland in an effort to force the

companies to increase efforts to end child labor on African farms, according to

press reports.

The farms under scrutiny supply cocoa beans used in making chocolate products.

According to a report by the Reuters news agency, the ILRF claims that the

companies are indirectly involved in the trafficking, torture and forced labor

of Mali children. The lawsuit also claims that the Mali children were beaten

and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day with no pay and little or no food or


Tom Harkin, a US senator, brought to world attention the issue of child and

slave labor on African cocoa fields when he set a deadline for chocolate makers

to come up with a certification that their products were free of child and slave


The deadline expired on July 1, this year with no indication that any real

progress had been made in solving the problem. However US Congressman Eliot

Engel, who helped shape the Harkin- Engel Protocol on Cocoa in 2001 with Tom

Harkin, has vowed to continue to work with these companies to try and eradicate

the problem of child labor in West Africa.

One industry source has been citied as saying that the chocolate makers now have

until 2008 to put into practices proper monitoring and certification.

However Jan Vingerhoets, executive director of the International Cocoa

Organization, thought the problem was being blown out of proportion. He said, "

You're talking about a poverty problem -- nothing more, nothing less."

When told that some media reports suggest that between 20% and 50% of the cocoa

in Ivory Coast was grown using child slave labor Mr Vibngerhoets replied,

"that's absolute nonsense. More than 90 percent of the child labor in West

Africa is nothing more than children helping their parents out. My father was a

chocolate-maker in Amsterdam and I helped him too."

"But there is some forced child labor in West Africa and some of that is related

to cocoa production. So, we must do everything we can to get rid of it," he


The three plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit said they were aged 12 to 14 years

when were taken from their homes, but the lawsuit is being brought for

"thousands" of children who were allegedly enslaved from 1996 until the present

to work in the Ivory Coast region of West Africa, Reuters said.