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Europe must move to stamp-out cocoa child labour, MEPs tell Commission

By Ben Bouckley, 31-Jan-2012

Related topics: Ingredients, Sustainable Sourcing, Commodities, Cocoa & Sugar

A committee of MEPs is calling on the European Commission (EC) to consider legislating against use of child labour in cocoa plantations that fuel the EU's demand for chocolate, while the world's largest food firm Nestle has outlined its measures to safeguard against the problem.

The European Parliament’s (EP’s) International Trade Committee (INTA) met last Thursday, and – while recommending that Parliament give consent to the International Cocoa Agreement (ICCO) 2010 in March – also adopted a resolution calling on the EC to legislate against use of child labour in the sector.

The problem is particularly pronounced in West Africa, which produces 70% of the world’s cocoa and employs 7.5m people. However, cocoa seed extraction is very labour intensive, since the seeds can easily be damaged by mechanical cutting.

INTA rapporteur, Vital Moreiera, said that during the consent procedure for the agreement “several stakeholders highlighted the issue of child labour in cocoa fields”.

“Since we believed that this was a serious issue that could not be overlooked, we decided to raise the issue by means of a resolution,” he added.

Child trafficking

According to the International Labour Organisation, not all work done by children should be classified as child labour, but studies suggest that some individuals have been trafficked into working on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

This resolution will also be put to a full vote at the EP in March, and while the committee said it acknowledged pressure on producers to keep labour costs down, it has called on cocoa traders, EU policy makers and consumers to address the problem of child labour collectively.

Calling for a ‘holistic’ framework to ensure fair and sustainable trade, the MEPs called on the EC to consider legislation for the effective tracking of cocoa goods produced using child labour, and encourage International Cocoa Agreement stakeholders to ensure sustainability.

An EP spokeswoman told BakeryAndSnacks.com that, as yet, there were no more concrete details from MEPs about potential measures that could be taken, while the EC itself had not yet responded to the committee's call for action.

ICCO itself is a deal (drawn up by the United Nations) to regulate relations between the world’s leading cocoa producing and consuming countries, which in its latest (seventh) incarnation is designed to reinforce member cooperation, increase transparency and extend cooperation between the private sector and civil society.

Nestlé addresses issue

Asked for his reaction to the MEPs’ call for legislation, Nestlé deputy head of corporate media relations, Chris Hogg told BakeryAndSnacks.com that the firm did not own any commercial cocoa farms or plantations.

He said: “Nestlé believes child labour has no place in our supply chain and we are firmly committed to actions to eradicate unacceptable practices in line with our commitments in the Nestlé Corporate Business Principles and the Nestlé Supplier Code.”

To tackle non-compliance, Hogg said Nestlé had also partnered the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to investigate whether children were working on cocoa farms supplying its factories in West Africa.

Where they find evidence of child labour, the FLA will identify the root causes and advise Nestlé how to address them in ways that are sustainable and lasting. The results, which will be made public in spring 2012, will guide future Nestlé actions. We are the first food company to partner with the FLA.”

These actions complemented Nestlé’s existing efforts – amongst other initiatives – to promote sustainability and better working practices in cocoa supply through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan, Hogg said.

Backed by a CHF110m (€91.3m) investment, this plan addresses problems faced by cocoa farming communities from an economic, social and environmental perspective.