West African child labour still feeds the world's insatiable hunger for chocolate
By Humphrey Hawksley in San Pedro, Ivory Coast
Published: 29 March 2007
Children are being forced to work on cocoa farms in west Africa despite a pledge by the chocolate companies more than five years ago to start eradicating child labour.
Travelling deep into the cocoa belt of Ivory Coast - the country that produces half the world's chocolate - children carrying cocoa machetes are a common sight. They are kept out of school and many have untreated wounds on their legs. "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."
In 2001, after an international outcry and a warning from the United States Congress, the global chocolate industry signed an agreement known as the Cocoa protocol. At first they promised to have made serious inroads towards ending the problem by July 2005. But they missed their targets, and Congress gave them three more years.
"That deadline came and went and we were very unhappy," said Eliot Engel, the Democrat congressman who initiated the protocol. "They now need to live up to that agreement. If they don't we'll make a decision in 2008.
"Personally I would be for implementing some sanctions because I think six years is enough."
The Ivory Coast government says the village of Petit Yammousoukro is a model project for taking children off cocoa farms. The village square is arid dirt and at one end is a school building. It is a mud hut, with a gap in the wall for a window, with 50 children inside. All had been farming cocoa.
"We opened this in January," said Georges Atta K Bredou, the village official in charge of the scheme, meaning January this year, five years after the Cocoa protocol was signed. Forty schools were earmarked for this district, but so far only six have been built.
"We haven't seen any of the money," said Thomas Lasme, the general secretary of the Oume Prefecture which is overseeing the pilot projects. "We need everything. Money, training, vehicles to take the children from the plantations, places for the children to stay."
In London, Alison Ward, of the Biscuit Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Association, said she believed the industry was on target this time to keep its promise.Meanwhile, Marc, Fabrice and thousands of other children continue to work on the cocoa farms - the impoverished end of a business chain that earns billions of pounds a year.