MEPs underlined the EU’s responsibility and that of cocoa and coffee producing sectors to address the plight of child labourers and the problem of deforestation.

The Committee on Development and the Subcommittee on Human Rights discussed ways to combat child labour and the devastation of rainforests caused by cocoa and coffee agriculture, during a joint public hearing on Wednesday 11 July 2018. Both issues are common in production countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, where large industrial companies buy and produce cocoa and coffee beans for the European market.

“Making sure the products we consume in the EU are produced fairly, and not linked to child labour and deforestation is something that MEPs and European citizens are very concerned about. After today’s hearing, we must continue to act to eradicate child labour and stop deforestation in the countries from which we import our chocolate and coffee”, said the Chair of the Committee on Development, Linda McAvan (S&D, UK) and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D, IT).

MEPs discussed child labour with a wide range of experts, NGOs and diplomats from producing countries. Enforcing international legislation, remediation measures and other initiatives implemented by the coffee and cocoa industry were raised, as was the impact of ethical auditing and certification schemes and potential campaigns to raise consumers’ awareness.

On deforestation, MEPs and participants expressed contrasting views. Some stressed that some companies are buying illegal cocoa and coffee from national parks, and that governments do not always request the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from local communities in the tropical rainforests zones before starting or developing a coffee or cocoa plantation.  

The participants proposed several recommendations to the EU and its member states:

  • contribute to making all legal international and national standards on child labour more effective, by helping cocoa and coffee producing countries build up their capacity to enforce them;

  • address child labour in trade policies through agreements and trade preferences, checking that partner countries strictly comply with standards on child labour;

  • strengthen global deforestation policy, in conformity with the EU international climate and development commitment, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals;

  • accompany the industry and national governments in their move towards major  zero deforestation reform in West Africa and to similar zero deforestation for all cocoa production throughout the world.

Background

 

152 million children aged 5-17 are estimated to work worldwide, out of which half in hazardous conditions, with a high prevalence in the supply chain of agricultural commodities, in particular cocoa and coffee, according to the International Labour Organisation. Moreover, the monoculture of agricultural commodities such as cocoa and coffee, not to mention palm oil or soya, causes deforestation in developing countries. The preservation of rainforests in those countries is key for biodiversity and helps lower the global carbon print. Clearing land for agricultural commodities represents almost 75% of global deforestation, according to the European Commission. The EU is among the world's largest importers of cocoa and coffee.