The Harkin-Engel Protocol – Part 2

Yesterday, I reported that the situation regarding child labor in West Africa does not seem to have improved much since 2001 if we look at the initial surveys conducted in Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire. Today, I’d like to focus on what the industry has done so far to address these issues and live up to the obligations it accepted in 2001.

The industry has established the International Cocoa Initiative, a foundation with the mission to “to oversee and sustain efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and forced labour in the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derivative products.” How has it fared? In its 2006 annual report, the most recent available on its web site, the foundation reports that, through its programs, 3,844 children “have been withdrawn from or spared the worst forms of child labor.” The report is somewhat vague as to what the program entails, but reports that it involves a community based approach to bring about sustainable change and abolish “improper” employment practices. Interestingly, the plans “are reliant on the programs of governments and existing donors” indicating that not a whole lot of new money is being expended to implement new programs.

A quick look at the balance sheet does indicate that the efforts seem rather meagre given the size of the problem. For 2006, the foundation received CHF (Swiss Francs) 2,166,172 (about $1.8 million at 2006 exchange rates) from the industry and spent CHF 1,106,172 (about $907,000) on programming expenses while over a million Francs were used to run the foundation. That means over 50% of its resources were used for administrative functions that did not directly benefit cocoa farmers. So this industry effort seems rather limited given the magnitude of the problems.

Interestingly, is has been another industry sponsored foundation, the World Cocoa Foundation, that has taken the lead in dealing with the child labor issue. Its existence actually predates the Harkin-Engel protocol but it has been more engaged with the certification requirements and the supposed achievements of the industry. Much of the information regarding the industry efforts is available on its web site. Nevertheless, many of its efforts piggy-back on existing work undertaken by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture’s Sustainable Tree Crops Program. Those programs do not directly address child labor issues and focus more on farmer productivity.

So where to we stand less than two months before the Harkin-Engel deadline?

The most complete assessment of the efforts so far has been done by a team from the Payson Institute of Tulane University. Under contract from the U.S. Department of Labor, the institute send a team of researchers into the field to assess the efforts to date. Its report, published maybe not coincidentally on Halloween Day in 2007, repeats many of the arguments made by the industry – the issue is very complex, it is extremely difficult to even ascertain the extent of the problem, solutions must be community based if they are to be sustained in the future and so forth.Â

Most damning, however, is the report’s assessment of the certification scheme the industry envisions. The Tulane team points out that the use of the term “certification” by the industry does not conform with the commonly accepts definitions of the term. Rather than setting a standard (no child labor was used in the production of this cocoa) and then certifying that this standard was met, the industry’s notion of certification is limited to periodic reports on the child labor conditions and the efforts undertaken to improve these conditions. On page 24, the report spells out that

[t]he certification process does not require Industry or government to establish or meet measurable targets for improvement. It does not include indicators or targets, nor does it call for setting them once a baseline is established. In addition, there is no clear linkage between certification report findings and investments by Industry to ameliorate problems and improve conditions for children in the cocoa growing regions.

Note the last sentence. The certification scheme envisioned by the industry does not require it to expend any funds to address reported problems of child labor or to improve the situation of children there. No money for schools, no support for farmers in the form of higher prices. Certification, as defined by the industry, only requires that the existing child labor conditions and the efforts to address the problem are reported and that the accuracy of the reports are verified.

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