The Harkin-Engel Protocol – Part 1

The most important component of the 2001 Harkin-Engel protocol was the requirement that the industry develop “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” by July 2005.

As we know, that deadline came and went without such a standard in place. The extension of the deadline until 2008 modified the original requirement and required the certification scheme to cover only 50% of the cocoa growing areas of Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire while maintaining 100% coverage as the ultimate goal.

Last year, both Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire released initial surveys to arrive at an assessment of the degree to which child labor is present in the cocoa sector. The World Cocoa Foundation (an industry sponsored foundation) labeled these reports “verification reports,” a choice of words that indicates that these reports are part of a the certification scheme. However, the reports are simple pilot studies, initial surveys limited to a small sample of cocoa growing villages and the only thing they verify is the fact that child labor continues to be prevalent in the areas surveyed. Let’s look at some of the details.

The Ghana report, released in April 2007, covers the 2006 conditions in six hundred households located in six cocoa growing districts of four regions. The authors acknowledge that the sample size is rather small (there are 67 cocoa growing districts) and that “one ought to exercise some caution when generalizing the results of the study for the entire country.”

Nevertheless, the results are instructive: Although 91% of children surveyed were enrolled in district schools, only about 70% actually attended school at the time of the survey. And while large majority of children helped out on farms only on weekends, during school vacation and after school, others spent much more time on the farm. Most importantly, the survey found that many had engaged in one or more of the three main hazardous activities associated with cocoa farming: carrying heavy loads (90%), using machetes to clear lands or extract cocoa beans (75%) and handling chemical fertilizer (37%) or pesticide (50%).

The situation in the Ivory Coast is even worse. Its 2007 report, entitled “Initial Diagnostic Survey,” randomly selected 260 households in six villages drawn from three departments. The sample size is even smaller than that in Ghana and thus requires even more caution when it comes to generalization. Even though, the results were jarring: only 54% of children were in school with 34% never having attended school. A large number (87%) were engaged in hazardous activities, mostly carrying heavy loads but also clearing brush and handling chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

In short, the situation in both countries does not seem to have improved much since the 2002 survey of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture that estimated respectively 71,000 and 35,200 children engaged in land clearing in the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana with an additional 13,200 applying pesticide in the Côte d’Ivoire alone.

So how will the industry arrive at a certification scheme that certifies that cocoa is produced without child labor by July? Stay tuned.

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