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As the world's leading consumer of chocolate and home to many major chocolate manufacturers, the EU must help ensure that children are not exploited to make it, say MEPs in a resolution passed on Wednesday. Parliament gave its consent to renew the International Cocoa Agreement, on production and trade, but took the opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of child labour in cocoa fields.

"Appalling numbers of children are engaged in hazardous activities on cocoa fields. The new International Cocoa Agreement will give us more instruments to address this issue but more needs to be done. All policymakers and stakeholders involved in cocoa production must live up to their responsibilities to eradicate child labour from cocoa production", said rapporteur Vital Moreira (SD, PT), in a debate with Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs before the vote. The resolution was passed by a show of hands.

MEPs call on everyone in the cocoa value chain – cocoa growers and processors, governments, traders, chocolate producers and consumers –to play their part to fight forced child labour and child trafficking in the sector.

Data and traceability

MEPs stress that further research is needed to provide verified statistical data on child labour and child trafficking in Western Africa. Many children work to help their families survive and not all this work should be classified as child labour. However, studies in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire suggest that children working on cocoa farms are exposed to pesticides and some may have been trafficked, says the resolution.

MEPs urge the Commission to consider proposing a traceability mechanism to detect whether goods are produced by forced child labour. International Cocoa Agreement partners should also help to ensure traceability throughout the cocoa supply chain or introduce accredited, third-party-audited traceability for the cocoa supply chain, they say.

The new International Cocoa Agreement

The International Cocoa Agreement is the main commodity agreement between cocoa exporters and importers. It aims to make world cocoa trade fairer and more sustainable. The latest version backed by Parliament on Wednesday calls on parties to collect, analyse and disseminate statistics and also to commission appropriate studies. Although the new agreement aims to improve social and environmental responsibility, it does not explicitly address the problem of child labour.

Facts on cocoa and child labour

  • The EU grinds and consumes around 40% of world's cocoa.

  • Harvesting cocoa is labour-intensive. Over 90% of the world's cocoa is grown by 5.5 million smallholders. A further 14 million rural workers directly depend on its production. 

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that over 215 million children worldwide are used as child labourers.

  • MEPs have called for a ban on child labour in trade and the possible introduction of "child labour free" product labelling in the past. In December 2011, Parliament withheld its consent to a Textile Protocol to the EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement due to proof that forced child labour had been used in Uzbekistan's cotton fields.

Procedure: consent (international agreement), non-legislative resolution (child labour)