Ahead of World Fair Trade day on May 12th Yorkshire and Humber Labour MEP, Linda McAvan, hosted an event in the European Parliament highlighting the issue of child labour on cocoa farms and urged consumers to make a statement by buying Fair Trade.
Participants at the event were shown a special film by US news company CNN about child labour on West African cocoa farms where tens of thousands of children, the majority under 12, are involved in backbreaking and sometimes dangerous work. Particularly shocking was the evidence of child trafficking where children are literally bought by farmers to work as cocoa slaves for board and keep. None of the children interviewed had ever eaten chocolate - most did not even know what it was.
Linda said: “Chocolate may be sweet, but the film left a very bitter taste in our mouths. We are not talking here about children working alongside their parents, helping out on farms. What we are seeing is wide scale exploitation of children, robbing them of their health, their childhood and any chance of an education."
She continued: "It is too simple to blame the farmers in West Africa. Many of them live in poverty themselves and are seeing their small margins squeezed. The price paid to farmers for cocoa has fallen 30% in recent years. We need the big western chocolate companies who buy most of the cocoa from places like West Africa, and who make substantial profits, to look again at their supply chains and work with us to ensure farmers are paid a decent, predictable income for their cocoa and to stamp out child labour.”
Ten years ago, under pressure from the US Congress, companies in the cocoa sector signed an agreement, the Harkin-Engel Protocol, pledging to stop child labour. But evidence from the CNN suggests poor results, not surprising given the meagre resources put in to tackle the problem.
Linda explained: "One way to improve the lot of farmers and combat child labour is for companies to switch to being Fair Trade producers. Some of our biggest chocolate companies are starting to make the switch - but it is still a small part of the market. Europe is the biggest market for cocoa in the world and we in Britain are the biggest consumers.”
Linda added: “One thing that was clear from yesterday’s event is that there is a lot of work to be done before the use of child labour is eradicated in the production of chocolate. By choosing Fair Trade, we as individuals can use our buying power to put pressure on the companies that make chocolate. Fair Trade chocolate guarantees better working standards and higher wages for the growers and people involved in the production of chocolate and is also a tried and tested way to help combat child labour.”
• In 2009 1.8 million children were employed in cocoa sector.
• 80% of these children were under 12.
• Linda is Chair of the European Parliament’s Fairtrade Group.