Washington, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today offered an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act that reiterates the Senate’s commitment to eliminating abusive child labor practices in the growing and processing of cocoa.

“When a child is exploited for the economic gains of others, the child loses, the family loses, their country loses, and the world loses. It is bad economics and bad development strategy,” Harkin said. “A nation cannot achieve prosperity on the backs of children. There is simply no place in the global economy for slave labor.”

The plight of hundreds of thousands of child slaves toiling in cocoa plantations in West Africa was reported in a series by Knight Ridder newspapers in June 2001. The report found that some of these children are sold or tricked into slavery. Most of them are between the ages of 12 and 16 and some are as young as nine years old. There are more than 600,000 small farms producing cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast, many in the remote parts of the country. Local human rights activists in the Ivory Coast estimate that as many as 90% of cocoa farms use forced child labor.

Harkin, along with Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), was instrumental in developing an industry wide protocol in 2001 which aimed to eliminate forced child labor in processing cocoa beans in West Africa. The Harkin-Engel Protocol, signed by various stakeholders in the chocolate trade including the chocolate industry, required that chocolate companies implement an industry-wide voluntary certification system to give a public accounting of labor practices in the cocoa-growing countries by July 1, 2005. While the July 1, 2005 deadline was not fully met, industry has assured Harkin and Engel that it is fully committed to achieving a certification system, which can be expanded across the cocoa-growing areas of West Africa and will cover 50% of the cocoa growing areas of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana within three years.