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November 22, 2012 / Elizabeth

Day 2 in Abidjan – Child Labor Discussion

Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara, addresses the World Cocoa Conference.

The World Cocoa Conference meetings officially kicked off on Nov 20th but I am just now getting the chance to blog. We have all been kept very busy!

On the first day, both the President and First Lady of Cote D’Ivoire, Alassane and Dominque Ouattara, addressed to the entire conference to demonstrate the country’s commitment to a sustainable cocoa economy.

President Ouattara emphasized that without sustainable production there could never be a sustainable cocoa economy for Cote D’Ivoire, or the world.  To achieve sustainable production he stressed that more investment is needed from the private sectore, and investment that is adapted to the needs of the farmers.  He also stated that farmers need a sustainable and guaranteed minimum price for their cocoa.  And finally that production could not be at the expense of the environment and that deforestation, climate change, and the lack of crop diversity need to be addressed.

Madame Ouattara explains Cote D’Ivoire’s plans to prevent child labor

Madame Ouattara’s talk focused specifically child labor prevention. The first lady has initiated an effort within the Ivorian government to build awareness of, monitor, and prevent child labor, not only in cocoa, but also in many sectors of the Ivorian economy.   During her talk she explained the future of the world cocoa economy and Cote D’Ivoire’s cannot be sustainable without addressing child trafficking, exploitation, and labor.  It is my duty, not only as first lady, but as a mother, activist to address this issue.

In many ways, this is progress. Just two years ago, it was not uncommon for companies and governments to flat out deny that child labor was happening. Acknowledging child labor as a problem that persists, even 12 year after it was first documented in cocoa, is the first step for progress.  Also, Madame Ouattara shared that since 2010, Cote D’Ivoire has been downgraded on the US State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s report from the Tier 2 watch list to just Tier 2. (Meaning that the country has developed more of a plan to address human trafficking and forced labor.

Child labor is a very complex problem, at the root of which is the issue of poverty. Poverty that may cause families in poor countries to elect to send their children far away in hopes there is are better opportunities for them elsewhere than at home. Poverty that in Cote D’Ivoire may limit a family to sending only one child to school, while the others are needed to help in the fields because paid help is not an option.  And finally, poverty that prevents the development educational opportunities—its easy to say kids should be in school, but if those schools are not built or do not have children, than their educational development remains stunted.

Acknowledgement of child labor is important, but it’s just the first step.  Next, it is incumbent that everyone who profits from the sale of cocoa to commit to do all they can do to prevent child labor – a shared responsibility.

Higher prices for farmers is key. Investment in infrastructure such as better roads and schools is also needed. And finally, cooperation on the part of producing government to police the worst forms of child labor and trafficking is also needed.

Based on day 1 of the conference, it seems almost all here can agree that Worst Forms of Child Labor are strictly unacceptable.  As an NGO that advocates for just treatment for all, we look forward to monitoring what the various players–businesses, certifiers, governments and farmers–do  to meaningfully address child labor.

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