Herculean efforts are required by the global chocolate industry to ensure that sourced cocoa supplies are not linked to exploited or trafficked child labour, underlines labour watchdog International Labor Rights Forum.
Claiming the industry has failed to provide consumers with "a reasonable assurance" as to the origins of their chocolate, ILRF has articulated a clutch of basic principles that reflect current demand from consumers.
"Consumers should reward companies with ethical integrity in their supply chains and continue to demand that worlds largest chocolate companies answer the question of how consumers can be assured their chocolate is not produced using exploited child labour," says Tim Newman from ILRF's campaigns department.
The issue of child labour came to the fore in 2001 after a series of media exposes depicted forced child labour and trafficking on West African cocoa farms.
The reports served as a catalyst for calls to purge this issue from the cocoa supply chain, leading to the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001 by leading stakeholders, including cocoa processors and chocolate makers.
Welcomed at the time by human rights groups and labour watchdogs, the protocol set out to eliminate the worst forms of child labor from cocoa supply chains. Together producing over 70 per cent of the world's cocoa supply, Ghana and Ivory Coast were to feel the major thrust of the protocol.
But in a new report, the ILRF claims the "original intent of the protocol has not been achieved" with industry dragging its feet.
"Consumers today have no more assurance than they did eight years ago that trafficked or exploited child labour was not used in the production of their chocolate," states the report.
In contrast, US democratic Senator Tom Harkin, the motor behind the protocol in 2001, said recently after a trip to West Africa that a number of important achievements had occurred since 2001.
"I had a chance to see, first hand, the progress that is being made in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire," he commented.
Adding, "I am hopeful that the industry will redouble its efforts to increase its contributions to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) to effectively deal with remediation needs."
A multi-stakeholder group, the ICI was established in 2002 under the protocol and represents a partnership among NGOs, trade unions, cocoa processors, such as US firm Cargill, and major chocolate brands that include Nestle and Cadbury.
Going forward, the chocolate and cocoa industry have voiced their commitment to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and forced adult labour on cocoa farms.
Specifically, to set up a sector-wide independently verified certification process fully in place across each country's cocoa-growing sector by the end of 2010; to work closely with and assist the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana as they target and coordinate remediation efforts, based on the results from the certification data reports; and chocolate firms to deepen their support for the ICI as the foundation expands to additional communities in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.
"It is not a commitment that expires with any one date but rather is an essential, ongoing part of how we conduct business. While we focus on near-term milestones, they are in fact part of a longer, sustained effort that reflects our corporate citizenship in this and other areas," said David Zimmer, secretary general of the industry association Chocolate, Biscuit & Confectionery Industries of the EU (CAOBISCO).
While criticising the industry as a whole for failing to establish best practice for the cocoa supply chain, the ILRF points to a number of recently launched "interesting initiatives" by individual companies in mid-2007 that aim to tackle the issue.
"From a consumer perspective, it will be interesting to see what comes out of these nascent initiatives to certify cocoa through Fair Trade, Utz Certified and Rainforest Alliance," said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, in a recent interview on Corporate Watchdog Radio.
Indeed, in their report, the ILRF recommends that firms should work through these existing initiatives "to develop stronger methodologies for labour standards monitoring and link these systems directly to the government processes with an incentive/sanction system."
Initiatives perhaps such as a recent move by cocoa maker Barry Callebaut that in 2008 acquired a 49 per cent stake in Biolands of Tanzania, Africa's largest exporter of certified organic cocoa. The investment highlighted the firm's drive 's into sustainable and ethical farming while improving traceability; Barry Callebaut will be able to enter into involvement with other countries through the programme.
"As a company, we are committed to contributing to a sustainable cocoa industry and a sustainable cocoa supply chain," Gaby Tschofen vice-president for corporate communications at Barry Callebaut recently told ConfectioneryNews.com.
"This includes working with cocoa farmers in order to empower them. We will test the models in the field to find out how we can improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their families in the most effective way."