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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Child cocoa workers still 'exploited'

By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC News, Ivory Coast

Young cocoa worker in Ivory Coast
Thousands of youngsters still work in dangerous conditions

Travelling deep into the plantations of the Ivory Coast - the West African nation that produces half the world's cocoa - children carrying machetes are a common sight.

They are being kept out of school and many have untreated wounds on their legs, where they have cut themselves when working in the cocoa plantations.

"I used to go to school," said Marc Yao Kwame, who works with his brother Fabrice on a remote farm. "But my father has no-one to work on the farm, so he took me out of school.

"My mother's a long way from here. I haven't seen her for 10 years - since I was two years old."

All this should have stopped by now.

In 2001, under pressure from the US Congress, the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eradicating forced child labour. They failed to meet an initial deadline of 2005, were given until 2008, and now patience is running out.

Sanctions threat

Next year, Congress is expected to draft legislation against the global chocolate industry, unless serious inroads are finally made against children being forced to work on cocoa farms.

"The deadline came and went and we were very unhappy," says Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel, who initiated the original agreement known as the Cocoa Protocol.

"They now need to live up to that agreement. If they don't, personally I would be for implementing some sanctions, because I think six years is enough."

"They know they can no longer do business the way they did business before," warns Donald Payne, the new Democrat chair of the Africa sub-committee. "We're going to work all we can to get the industry to stop these abuses."

School for former child cocoa workers
Shortage of funds means only six schools have opened

The Ivory Coast Government holds up the village of Petit Yammousoukro as a model project being run under the Cocoa Protocol to take children off the cocoa farms.

The village square is arid dirt, and at one end is a school building that is meant to be the chocolate industry's showpiece in keeping its promise.

The school is a mud hut, with a straw roof and a gap in the wall for a window. When we visited, there were about 50 children inside, their ages ranging from early teens down to three or four. All had been farming cocoa. Many bore the scars of machete injury. All reacted with horror at the prospect of going back.

Appalling conditions

But the hut was built by the villagers themselves. The wooden desks and a blackboard were paid for by the American Government's international development agency (USAID).

"We opened this in January," said Georges Atta K Bredou, the village official in charge of the pilot project.

"This January?" I asked.

"Yes. We started building in November last year."

That is a full five years after the Cocoa Protocol was signed - yet it has been known for years that children in their thousands are put to work in appalling conditions on the cocoa farms.

We don't have anything to make this project work
Thomas Lasme, Oume Prefecture

Mr Bredou explained that 40 schools had been earmarked for the Oume Prefecture, which included the village. But only six mud hut schools like the one we were in had actually been built. And when we went to the regional office, we found out why.

"We haven't seen any of the money," said Thomas Lasme, the Oume general secretary who is overseeing the pilot projects.

"We need everything: money, training, vehicles to take the children from the plantations, places for the children to stay. We don't have anything to make this project work."

Long term project

Neither the British nor American chocolate manufacturers knew details about the model project in Petit Yammousoukro.

"Oume was one of the districts we worked in," said Alison Ward of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Association in London.

"What we need to do is work with the governments in West Africa, work with experts to really make a difference on the ground. That's what we're determined to do and that's what we're going to do."

"This is a long term project," explained Susan Smith of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association in the United States. "I think I've learned that they're moving forward on pilots."

Having already broken their agreement for 2005, Congressman Eliot Engel is closely watching the manufacturers' progress.

"No-one's going to get a second chance to fool me," he said, adding that if the industry missed the 2008 deadline, he would sit down with colleagues and would begin to implement legislation.

"The bottom line is to stop child slavery," he said.




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