Europe's leading cocoa processors and chocolate makers, through their industry association CAOBISCO, along with their counterparts from elsewhere in the world, last week launched a new campaign to promote responsible labour and sustainable farming practices in West Africa, the main cocoa-growing region.
The campaign, which is being co-ordinated in association with African governments, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), among others, was launched following an international meeting in Accra, Ghana, sponsored by the chocolate industry and attended by more than 150 stakeholders engaged in improving the well being of cocoa farming families and workers throughout West Africa.
The region-wide programme is the next step in more than 12 months' work by a broad international alliance of industry, governments, leading experts on labour and agricultural issues, activists, consumer coalitions and other stakeholders. In late 2001, the global cocoa and chocolate industry signed an international protocol to ensure that cocoa is grown without abusive child or forced labour.
The initiative includes a series of pilot programmes that will implement and assess different approaches to ensuring that children and adults are not subjected to abusive labour conditions in the growing of cocoa in the Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as the growing of cashews in Guinea.
"This action programme will touch the lives of tens of thousands of cocoa farming families, while creating permanent, positive change in their communities," said John Rowsome, president of the Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Canada (CMAC) and a participant in the Ghana conference.
"Working closely with our partners, we are focusing our resources on where they will do the greatest good - on the ground, at the individual farm level."
To promote responsible cocoa farming, the pilot programmes will directly address labour practices on cocoa farms while seeking to improve the overall well-being of the cocoa farming community. They will focus on protecting children from abusive labour practices by raising awareness of the issue, promoting best practice and providing direct assistance for families, while also strengthening farming communities in Africa by giving direct support and assistance to local farmers.
The programmes also seek to raise the livelihood of rural cocoa farming families and workers, thereby improving the opportunities for nutrition, health care and education.
Specific pilot programme elements include creating or strengthening local community organisations, testing different systems to help farmers grow cocoa more efficiently, promoting diversified agricultural techniques which can help combat diseases and offering at-home education for children.
"Creating and consolidating farmer groups and providing farmers with tools and information systems can play a powerful role in uplifting the farmer community," said Mario Boivin, project director with the Societe de Cooperation pour le developpement International (SOCODEVI), a leading organisation in the development of co-operatives and one of the partners involved in the planning and implementation of the pilot programmes.
"These pilot programmes give us an opportunity to make a real difference in how farmers grow, harvest and market their cocoa - and in doing so will improve their livelihood."
All of the pilot programmes will be implemented immediately, throughout West Africa.