Sustainability

US senators respond to reports of cocoa sourced with the help of child labor

By Kristine Sherred contact

- Last updated on GMT

The lawmakers said the issue of cacao imports made with child labor can be solved by neither by industry self-regulation, nor by lax or nonexistent enforcement. Pic: Getty Images/ca2hill
The lawmakers said the issue of cacao imports made with child labor can be solved by neither by industry self-regulation, nor by lax or nonexistent enforcement. Pic: Getty Images/ca2hill

Related tags: Child labor, Cocoa farmers, Cocoa prices, Fairtrade, Côte d'ivoire, Ghana, Regulation, Chocolate, Sustainable cocoa, living income

Following an investigation published in The Washington Post in June, two Democratic lawmakers requested that existing laws prohibiting such imports be enforced.

Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, both Democrats, sent a letter​ to the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 16. They urged DHS to instruct Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) “to block cocoa imports made with forced labor and, where appropriate, pursue criminal investigations.”

“We urge you to take all necessary action to ensure the US is not complicit in indentured child labor in the cocoa sector,”​ the Senators wrote.

As one of the world’s largest cocoa importers – more than $600m entered the country last year, “it is time the US took more aggressive action to combat forced child labor in the cocoa sector and to fully enforce Section 307 as Congress intended,”​ they said.

That section of the Tariff Act of 1930 denied the importation of any merchandised made entirely or in part in a foreign country through forced or indentured child labor. According to the CBP, it explicitly includes forced child labor​.

In 2015, the duo sponsored an amendment to the CBP trade bill that they said closed a loophole in import laws – one that allowed certain products made with forced or child labor if insufficient supply existed elsewhere to meet domestic demand.

Known as the ‘consumptive demand’ clause, its repeal stood to ‘enhance CBP’s ability to prevent products made with forced labor from being imported into the US.’

Missed deadlines

The Washington Post story detailed the lingering reality of child labor​ in Ivorian cocoa fields – a problem it says ‘the world’s largest chocolate companies promised to eradicate nearly 20 years ago.’

The senators’ letter also calls out the Harkin-Engel protocol, which several major players signed, and their unfulfilled promise: “Unfortunately, they missed that deadline and several subsequent ones, and the widespread use of child labor in the sector persists.”

CBP can withhold products for flouting the child labor law, and DHS “committed to adopting a zero tolerance policy on its enforcement.”

“The last 20 years demonstrate that the travesty of forced child labor in the global cocoa supply chain cannot be solved by chocolate companies’ self-regulation,”​ the letter concluded. “Nor can it be addressed with lax or nonexistent enforcement. It is time to pursue a comprehensive, aggressive enforcemenet agenda to eradicate forced child labor in the cocoa sector.”

As of 2015, per a labor department report, more than 2 million children worked in ‘dangerous’ conditions in cocoa-growing regions. Earlier this year, reporters for the Post asked producers including Hershey, Mars and Nestlé if they could guarantee that their chocolate was child-labor-free. They declined to ‘make those claims.’

The Post story outlines these and other players’ noted efforts to pursue progress. We have detailed many of their programs here on ConfectioneryNews.

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