I am very disappointed but I should have expected it. Yesterday, in a joint statement with the Chocolate Industry, Senator Harkin and Congressman Engel basically ratified the very limited efforts of the industry to combat child labor in the cocoa sector. So, for all practical purposes, the crucial part of the 2001 Harkin-Engel protocol, that the industry establish a “credible, mutually acceptable, voluntary, industry-wide standards of public certification, consistent with applicable federal law, that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor” is dead.
The system that is now in place and that will be completed by December, while “mutually acceptable” to the industry and the law makers, is definitely not “credible.” It does not certify that “cocoa beans have been grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor.” As I outlined earlier in this blog, the system consists of surveys that document the extent of child labor in Ghana and the CÃ´te d’Ivoire and then verifies that the surveys are accurate. Oh, it also documents what is being done to deal with the problem – by anyone but the chocolate industry.
It’s almost ironic if it weren’t so sad, but the system developed by the industry certifies that, yes, cocoa in West Africa is produced with the worst forms of child labor. Except now we know for sure. Children still handle chemical pesticides and fertilizer, they still use machetes to clear brush and open the pods, they still carry heavy loads that lead to stunted growth and other developmental problems and they still are not in school.
I had no expectation that the industry would develop a true certification system. Their responsibility, unfortunately, is only to their shareholders, not the children of cocoa farmers. But I kept hoping that Senator Harkin and Congressman Engel, once the saw the “certification scheme,” would just tell the industry to get back to work or else. But that shows how naive I can be.
It is clear to me that everyone involved, the industry, the politicians and the governments in Africa, just wanted this issue go away. Now they have achieved that goal. From now on, whenever someone raises the issue of child labor, they can point to their system. And when the critique continues, it can be dismissed as unreasonable. Business as usual. And for that they took seven years!