EU resolution on cocoa child labour has ‘no bite’, says Labour group

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Child labour, International labour organization, United nations

An estimated 284,000 children work on cocoa farms in West Africa, according to studies. Photo Credit: ILRF
An estimated 284,000 children work on cocoa farms in West Africa, according to studies. Photo Credit: ILRF
The EU resolution on child labour in the cocoa sector passed last week fails to implement legally binding measures on a confectionery industry that has been “dragging its feet”, according to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).

The industry, including large multinationals Ferrero, Hershey and Barry Callebaut, say legislation alone cannot combat the issue which is rooted in poverty and access to education, and claim they are taking steps to combat the problem.

The European Parliament last week gave its consent to the 2010 International Cocoa Agreement and passed a resolution on child labour in the cocoa sector.

ILRF: resolution overdue

ILRF campaigns director Sean Rudolph told​ that the resolution essentially called for full implementation of the Harkin-Protocol, a commitment launched in the US in 2001 to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2005.

“After more than 10 years after Harkin Engel, there is finally a European initiative on cocoa that asks for an examination on traceability.”

“However it doesn't put forward any legally binding measures towards private sector.”

“At this point looking into possibilities is not enough,”​ he said.

Industry ‘unaccountable’

VOICE, the European network of NGOs and unions in the cocoa sector, had hoped for legislation demanding due diligence from manufacturers in their supply chain and minimum standards of compliance.

“We support the resolution because it’s finally a European document, but we also need to see some results and some binding measures put forward that hold the industry accountable,” ​said Rudolph.

He said that the industry’s focus on ‘sustainability’ was really code for “increasing productivity”​ that would not help farmers in the long-run.

He added that Ferrero had been “dragging its feet”​ in tracing child labour in its supply chain and said Hershey had not yet articulated a strategic plan.

Hershey and Ferrero retort

Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at Hershey told this site:“The Hershey Company has been very transparent and clear about our plans to address the labour issues in West Africa.” 

He pointed to a $10 million, five-year initiative from Hershey announced in January, which included programmes to reduce child labour and committed to making Hershey’s Bliss with cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

 A Ferrero spokesperson also told this site that Ferrero was committed to eliminating child labour.

“We work with international organisations such as the UN and the International Labour Organisation to improve the rights and livelihoods of the communities we do business with.”

"Recently, we joined a new Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the International Labour Office (ILO) and eight companies in the chocolate and cocoa industry to combat child labour in cocoa growing communities in Ghana and Côte d’lviore,​” they said.

Industry bites back

The industry also responded to Rudolph’s criticism in a joint statement on behalf of The European Cocoa Association, the World Cocoa Foundation and CAOBISCO issued to

“Working conditions, especially in developing countries, cannot be addressed by one intervention such as legislation but need to be tackled by a variety of measures,”​ it read.

The industry body said manufacturers were already working through measures such as third party certification, community projects, supply chain improvements and remediation programmes.

Tackle root cause

According to the industry, improving farmer income does not necessarily mean less child labour and full traceability of child labour in supply chains by manufacturers would be currently impossible on a wide-scale.

“Child labour is a complex phenomenon that finds its root causes in poverty and limited access to education,”​ it said.

“Addressing the root causes will require time before all the hundreds of thousands of families and communities have been reached.”

The ILRF is currently preparing a cocoa policy paper with recommendations on traceability and third-party isotope testing that is due in the next two months.

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