What does this mean for the Global Protocol, the agreement signed in 2001 to eliminate child slavery?

Bama Athreya and Tim Newman:

Since the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in 2001, ILRF argued that the agreement “is inadequate alone to effectively address the complex problem of child labor in the cocoa sector.”

In exchange for binding legislation that would have required chocolate companies to comply with a “slave free” labelling system, the chocolate companies developed the voluntary Protocol which required them to “develop and implement credible, mutually-acceptable, voluntary, industry-wide standards of public certification, consistent with applicable federal law, that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor” by July 1, 2005.

When the industry did not fulfil this commitment in 2005, they agreed to certify 50% of their cocoa by July 1, 2008. By the time July 2008 arrived, the industry had developed a “certification” program that consists of publicly reported surveys of farmers conducted by the governments of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. This system contains no standards and is unlike any other certification system in use – it is truly just data gathering.

ILRF joined other groups in objecting to this “certification” system in this letter. As we noted in a report released for the July 1, 2008 deadline, “None of the activities undertaken under the auspices of the ‘protocol’ have attempted to monitor or improve labor conditions within the cocoa supply of any chocolate company. Indeed for seven years, all the major chocolate companies, as well as industry associations and cocoa traders, have maintained that tracking or monitoring conditions within their own supply chains is impossible.”

As that quotation says, major chocolate companies had consistently told advocates since 2001 that it was impossible to be able to track a major chocolate brands’ cocoa supply chain and institute ethical standards. The recent announcements from Cadbury and Mars have finally laid that argument to rest. The commitments from Cadbury and Mars, as well as the cocoa standards developed by Starbucks and the work of leading ethical brands like Equal Exchange, Divine Chocolate and Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, all show that the “certification” system developed under the Harkin-Engel Protocol process is not sufficient to ensure that labor rights are protected.

Indeed, as the joint statement release by major chocolate companies on the July 1, 2008 Protocol deadline stated, the goal for their “certification” system in the future is to “ideally, over time… indicate an improvement in the status of child and adult labor practices” – far from the commitments made in 2001. Additional certification programs with strong labor standards, supply chain transparency and actual enforcement are essential to not only ending the worst forms of child labor, but also ensuring that all international core labor rights are respected in cocoa production.

The questions now are: what certification programs are the most equipped to protect worker rights, how can these programs be strengthened, and what company will be next to recognize the importance of stronger labor standards?

Michael Niemann:

Both Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certification include standards regarding labor conditions on cocoa farms. Meeting either certification standard will help decrease the prevalence of child labor overall. However, the fact that two large corporations have decided to seek third party certification shows yet again that the strategies chosen by the chocolate industry and the "certification" they invented to meet the demands of the protocol are little more than window dressing. It also shows that the old argument that third party certification is cumbersome and too costly does not hold water.

What do the announcements mean for consumers and citizens in rich countries?

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