U.S. Ban Sought on Cocoa Produced by Child Slaves

San Jose Mercury News

By Steven Thomma

A labor-rights advocacy group asked the U.S. government Thursday to ban

imports of cocoa from Ivory Coast, saying a new investigation revealed that little

had been done to stop the use of child slave labor in its harvesting.

The group, the Washington-based International Labor Rights Fund, asked the

Customs Service to invoke a 1997 law that prohibits imports of any good

"produced or manufactured with bonded child labor." The group said the only

cocoa shipments from Ivory Coast that should be allowed into the United States

were those that had been independently certified as porduced without child slave

labor. In a 2001 series of articles, the Mercury News Africa Bureau detailed the

use of child slave labor in harvesting some cocoa beans in Ivroy Coast, the West

African Nationa that produces 43 percent of the world's cocoa. The series

resulted in assurances by the chocolate industry that it would work with

international labor organizations, government organizations and activists to end

child slave labor on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.

In its complaint, the labor rights group said it could find no evidence of efforts to

end the use of child labor. It sent an investigator to the country this month.

"It's continuing," said investigator Marx-Vilaire Aristide, a research economist

who visited more than 24 cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. "The government has

taken measures. It has arrested some brokers. They are very sensitive about this.

But if you probe, you realize it's still a problem."

Arisitide said farmers told him they still would pay brokers to get child labor

during the high season, from November to April.

The labor group said it did not have to prove that all cocoa beans in the country

were harvested by child slave labor. "The specific evidence of unlawful labor

necessarily extends to all importers of of cocoa from the Ivory Coast because the

tainted beans are mixed with all shipments," the group said in its letter to the U.S.

customs service.

If the Customs Service does not invoke the law within 30 days, the International

Labor Rights Fund said it will sue in federal court to force the action.

The U.S. chocolate industry is against the proposed ban on cocoa imports. It

said progress is being made toward eliminating slave labor and that such a radical

step would punish the honest majority of African cocoa farmers.

The industry devised a plan last fall to work toward ending child slavery on Ivory

Coast cocoa farms. Its first step was to survey the farms to determine how

widespread the problem is. That survey was to have been completed by Dec.

31, but no results have been reported yet.

"We do believe the Ivory Coast is trying very hard to work with us to rectify the

situation," said Susan Snyder Smith, senior vice president of the Chocolate

Manufacturer's Association, the U.S. industry group.