Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, has called on the US government not to ban cocoa imports from Côte d’Ivoire following a petition filed by human rights groups, which included video and audio files that claim to provide evidence of children working on Ivorian cocoa farms, as well as indications that the children were trafficked there for that purpose.
In an opinion article for fooddive.com published at the weekend, he said: “The cocoa and chocolate industry wants to see children in school, not toiling on farms, and has worked for decades with the West African governments to reduce child labor in the supply chain. The results have been mixed, meaning we urgently need a new approach to fix the problem.”
It could push millions of poor farmers deeper into poverty, even though the vast majority of them are innocent of such practices, and threatens to damage the economy and security of a vital US partner in West Africa -- Richard Scobey, WCF president
Responding to an article in the Washington Pos, published on Valentine’s Day, which reported that human rights advocates have petitioned US Customs and Border Protection ‘to stop some of the world’s largest chocolate companies from importing cocoa from Ivory Coast, the world’s most important supplier, unless they can show that it was produced without forced or trafficked child labor’, Scobey said: “This irresponsible call for a US ban on cocoa imports from Côte d’Ivoire will hurt, not help.
“It could push millions of poor farmers deeper into poverty, even though the vast majority of them are innocent of such practices, and threatens to damage the economy and security of a vital US partner in West Africa.”
The Post reported that legal action seeks to force large multi-national chocolate companies to produce evidence by August that the cocoa they are importing into the United States is produced without forced or trafficked child labor. Without such proof, the groups said, the US customs agency should use its authority to block the Ivorian cocoa imports.
Scobey told The Washington Post that the Ivorian government has at times conducted raids to stop the child trafficking, halting buses of unaccompanied children coming from Burkina Faso.
In response to the allegations of child labor, the large chocolate companies also told the paper they condemn child labor and point to efforts that they say will eradicate the practice from their cocoa suppliers.
“Ending child labor requires the work of cocoa-growing communities, governments in cocoa producing countries, the chocolate and cocoa industry, and chocolate-consuming countries around the world,” said Scobey.