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US Commits $10 Million to Combat Child Labor in Cocoa Fields

  • Mariama Diallo

A young man working in a cocoa field in Africa.

A young man working in a cocoa field in Africa.

The US government plans to commit $10 million to combat the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa-growing countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana where half of the world's cocoa is produced.

If there's one thing people around the world share in common it's the love of chocolate but for some, it's a bitter reality that the main ingredient in chocolate - cocoa - is generally produced by child labor.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis along with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Eliot Engel are trying to change that. Solis recently announced the U. S. will commit $10 million to fund what she calls a "New Framework of Action" to protect children in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast. "This project will help Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire build community-based monitoring systems to uncover the worst forms of child labor, and get the affected children back into their schools and classrooms, and provide them with other services that they need," she said.

Solis said the initiative is in support of so-called "Harkin-Engel Protocol", an agreement signed in 2001 with the cocoa industry to keep children from doing kinds of work they are not suited for. Iowa Senator Harkin, one of the protocol's sponsors, said the initiative is not meant to keep children from working entirely. "I worked when I was a kid. I'm sure you worked when you were a kid. I bet Eliot did too. I'm talking about work that keeps kids from being in school. Hazardous kinds of work, where children lose fingers - are scarred for life. These are the worst forms of child labor," he said.

Over the nine years since the agreement was signed officials say there has been some progress, though only people on the ground can say how much.

Enoch Mensah, Ghana's Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, said "The Harkin-Engel protocol have achieved something that cannot be quantified in monetary terms. It has raised a consciousness in district assemblies in the areas to rise up to their responsibilities. Building of schools has quadrupled."

Cote d'Ivoire's Labor Minister, Emile Guirieoulou, said his country has also made progress. "As part of our national action plan against the worst forms of child labor, we have started various actions. We are satisfied that this initiative is in fact an extension of these actions and asked to strengthen them," he said.

New York Congressman Eliot Engel say all of those involved share responsibility for solving the problem in the cocoa growing areas. This initiative, he said, is a new beginning. "Make no mistake, much has been done over the past nine years but today, we pledge to redouble our efforts and to not fully be satisfied until the worst forms of child labor are completely eliminated," he said.

Representatives of the international chocolate and cocoa industry also pledged to commit $7 million - to reduce the number of child laborers by 70 percent over the next ten years.

The global effort to combat child labor gained momentum in 1999, with the International Labor Organization's adoption of an agreement called "Convention 182." As of March 2005, 153 countries had ratified it.

Between 1995 and 2009, the United States has spent nearly $700 million funding projects in 75 countries worldwide, 61 of those, in Africa.