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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
US to act on cocoa slavery
Cocoa pods
Cocoa is principally used for making chocolate
Chocolate manufacturers and US members of Congress have agreed a programme aimed at stopping the use of coerced child labour to grow cocoa.

But there is no indication yet of whether the scheme will do anything to boost the price of cocoa, which fair trade campagners say is kept low by exporters and chocolate manufacturers.

The four-year plan is intended to bring in global standards and independent monitoring of areas particularly in Central and West Africa where the UN International Labour Organisation says child labour is, or has been, rife.

That, the plan's backers say, should allow cocoa grown without exploitative practices to be labelled as such, and a foundation will be set up to manage the scheme.

Support at home and abroad

The Ivory Coast - the world's biggest producer of cocoa beans for chocolate products - has in the past been accused of being a centre for child labour in the cocoa industry.

Deadlines for action
1 October 2001:
Group to assist ongoing investigation of West African labour practices in West Africa
1 December 2001:
Advisory group to outline how to eliminate child slave labour
1 May 2002:
Binding memorandum of cooperation, launching independent monitoring and enforcement
1 July 2002:
Foundation to be governed by a board of industry and NGOs, helping to reunite children with their families
1 July 2005:
Credible, industry-wide standards to identify cocoa grown without child slave labour.
Now, though, the country has made slavery illegal, and the government is becoming more active in trying to get local police and officials to crack down on the practice.

Youssoufou Bamba, the Ivory Coast's ambassador to the US welcomed the initiative, promising that officials at home would help enforce its terms.

"This plan will complement our ongoing efforts to end instances of abuse in farming," he said, "and will do so in a way that supports the many thousands of family farmers in the Ivory Coast who do not employ these deplorable practices."

The scheme could complement the Ivory Coast's recent introduction of an income guarantee system for its cocoa growers, although the system is still bogged down in disagreements between producers and exporters.

Still on the drawing board

The scheme follows a rider attached by a Democratic congressman from New York, Eliot Engel, to the Food and Drug Administration's annual budget bill, allowing the FDA to create a "no child labour" label for chocolate.

Much of the detail remains to be worked out, after a study of 3,000 farms in West Africa to be carried out by the UN, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and chocolate industry representatives.

But producer countries, led by the Ivory Coast, are pressing for manufacturers to pay more, saying that is the only way to prevent child slavery.

In May, ministers from the Ivory Coast went to London to tell the UK government that without higher prices nothing could prevent poverty-stricken cocoa farmers from using forced labour.

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