The European Parliament is concerned about child labour in Africa’s cocoa plantations. The influential International Trade Committee is warning producing countries that trade preferences could be withdrawn in the event of violations of international conventions of children’s rights. The International Trade Committee of the European Parliament approved in January a resolution proposed by Portuguese socialist MP Vital Moreira calling the EU and producing countries to take measures against child labour in the cocoa sector.
The resolution – to be voted by the Parliament’s plenary in March – acknowledges the pressure on producers from international traders to keep labour costs as low as possible and calls on cocoa traders, EU policy makers and consumers to share responsibility in addressing child labour. The issue is particularly important for West Africa which accounts for more than 70% of the world cocoa production. In West Africa alone the sector employs 7.5 million persons. The collection of cocoa beans is indeed a highly labour intensive activity, since mechanical harvest often damages the beans, explain cocoa growers.
Lawmakers consider that as the world’s biggest consumer of chocolate, the EU – which imports 80% of its cocoa from Africa – must take responsibility. To that effect, the members of the International Trade Committee call on the Commission to consider proposing legislation for effective tracking of cocoa goods produced through child labour and to engage International Cocoa Agreement partners to play their part in ensuring traceability along the supply chain. Of course, not all work done should be classified as child labour, say European lawmakers but studies suggest that some children may have been trafficked to work in cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The European MPs say also that the recent conflict in Ivory Coast has worsened the situation of children.
According to a study from the International Labour Organization, 284,000 children are working in Ivorian cocoa fields and over 200,000 of them are less than 14 years old. Besides, a majority (150,000) are exposed to pesticides without any protection. 12,000 of these child workers do not have any relative in the region where they are working, suggesting that they may be victims of human trafficking networks which operate from other regions of the country or even from the poorer neighbouring Sahelian states such as Mali or Burkina-Faso.
The European Parliament’s resolution is coming at a crucial moment for the African producers such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana but also Nigeria and Cameroon. Indeed, all these countries are currently negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements which include free trade arrangements between the EU and the African regions. Yet, the Moreira report warns that trade preferences could be withdrawn in the case of serious and systematic violations of the International Labour Organization Conventions, which ban child labour in conditions that could endanger their health and their development. The warning should be taken seriously. Indeed, last December, the European Parliament refused to approve a memorandum on the trade of textile products between the EU and Uzbekistan, because of the use of forced labour in the Asian country’s cotton fields.
But at the same time, the European Parliament is also willing to bring a support to the cocoa producing countries. It recommends indeed to the Parliament’s Plenary to give the green light to the EU’s formal approval to the 2010 International Cocoa Agreement, a deal between the world’s leading producing and consuming countries. The new agreement will reinforce cooperation among members, increase transparency and extend cooperation with the private sector and civil society. It is meant to introduce more sustainable and fairer practices in the trade of cocoa products.
The Agreement is now being implemented on a provisional basis. It will come definitely into force, once it is ratified by the EU and its member states and the other stakeholders. Switzerland, Indonesia, the third world producer and the world’s top producers, Ivory Coast and Ghana have already signed it.