Monday, September 19, 2011

10 Years Harkin-Engel Protocol


By Chris N. Bayer and Elke de Buhr



Ten years ago, on September 19, 2001, representatives of the international cocoa and chocolate industry, witnessed by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol – a negotiated agreement committing the world’s chocolate manufacturers to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa-growing areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Specific concerns, as defined by ILO Convention 182, included hazardous labor, child trafficking and forced labor in the cocoa sector of these two countries, where more than 60% of the world harvest of cocoa beans is produced, often with the help of children and mostly on small family farms.


Several large surveys, carried out in the past five years, including research conducted by the authors as part of a Tulane University/U.S. Department of Labor oversight contract on behalf of the U.S. Congress, confirmed that child labor continues to be widespread throughout the cocoa-growing regions. Children working in cocoa agriculture are often involved in hazardous labor and there is evidence of individual cases of children exposed to child trafficking and forced labor. Our surveys show that more than half of the children in the cocoa-growing areas in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana work in agriculture and most of them also work in cocoa. 


Children working in cocoa agriculture are exposed to activities defined as hazardous by the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, including carrying heavy loads (80% in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana), working with machetes (57% in Ghana), clearing brush (60% in Côte d'Ivoire). In 2008/9, there were approximately 263,000 children working on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire working in contravention to the minimum age and minimum hour standards of child work based on ILO Conventions and country laws.  In Ghana, during the same time period, there were approximately 270,000 children. In the two countries combined, there were over 400,000 children below the age of 12 years that were working in cocoa farms.


Only a fraction of the children labouring in cocoa agriculture are however victims of trafficking.  Yet evidence abounds that this phenomenon is prevalent: a non-probability survey conducted by the authors in Burkina Faso and Mali identified over 400 former child workers in Burkina-Faso and Mali who had been trafficked to Côte d’Ivoire to work in cocoa.  Only 2 out of more than 400 former victims of child trafficking had received any sort of social services.


Our research also showed that only a very small percentage, less than 5% of approximately 1.8 million children working in cocoa, were reached by private sector and/or government supported interventions. Based on our data, between 2001 and 2009, public and private stakeholders only supported a few thousand children in the cocoa-growing areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana with remediation interventions, including withdrawal, rehabilitation, reinsertion, education, and vocational training services. While particularly the Government of Ghana is making serious efforts to increase coverage, there is still much to be done to cover the entire affected population.


Child labor in the cocoa sector has seen active public-private partnerships and received much media coverage and the interest of human rights and consumer groups. In spite of the concerted attention, progress on the ground has been slow, in part because of the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, and the fundamental objectives of the Harkin-Engel Protocol have not yet been reached. After 10 years, the Protocol remains a unique and critical forum for high-level collaboration between the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the U.S. government, and industry to work towards a legal and practical framework that facilitates effective interventions focused on the protection of children.


Solving the more widespread problem of the child labor in the cocoa sector of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana will require the provision of primary and secondary education to all children, governmental enforcement of existing regulations, social and economic development of the agricultural areas, better terms of trade for the farmer, and major changes in the way cocoa beans are grown and harvested, ultimately leading to monitored production on more organized and commercialized farms and plantations. Immediate challenges include the lack of sufficient funds to address this complex problem, the lack of coordination on the intervention-level, the frequently inefficient use of existing resources, and the neglect of the development of basic infrastructure in rural producing communities, many of which are still among the poorest on earth.


The 10th anniversary of the Harkin-Engel Protocol is an opportunity to highlight what has proven to work. While most direct and indirect interventions have had some positive impact, our research identified five measures that most effectively and systemically address the worst forms of child labor in the West African cocoa sector, which in the cocoa sector comprise hazardous labor and child trafficking. The first, product certification, entails 3rd-party farm audits that verify the absence of the worst forms of child labor at the primary production level. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, or Utz Certified are the leading product certifiers, providing credible assurance that the cocoa used to produce a product is free of the worst forms of child labor. The second, child labor monitoring, is a form of community-based surveillance, which allows the timely identification, withdrawal and prevention of a child engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The third, farmer extension services, not only teaches farmers skills such as crop diversification and occupational health and safety, it delivers modules on child labor prevention to the farm-level decision maker. Fourth, community sensitization and mobilization campaigns catalyze the recognition that some labor practices, however traditional, are not conducive to a child’s development and help jump-start community-based solutions to the problem. Fifth, the formation of agricultural cooperatives empower its members to diffuse technical innovation, consolidate land, distribute agricultural inputs, add value of primary goods and obtain better terms of trade. All five of these measures, especially when combined, promise a highly effective strategy to counter the worst forms of child labor on West Africa’s cocoa farms.


How can the concerned consumer help? Glad you asked. Look for a certification label – such as Fairtrade Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, or Utz Certified – on your chocolate bar or cocoa product and indulge. This type of consumer action – voting with dollars and cents – sends a clear message to the chocolate and other commodity producers, in a language they understand best. Private sector companies’ very nature dictates that they respond to popular demand. By purchasing certified chocolate, we reward those farmers and companies that actively work to assure the production of child labor free goods.