A “memorandum of cooperation” was signed by an international coalition of chocolate manufacturers, human rights groups and US industry unions yesterday [Wednesday], which vowed to abolish child slavery on the West African cocoa fields, where 56% of the world’s cocoa originates.

The forced slavery of children as young as 11 years in the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast was highlighted in the global media last year, and the US State Department’s 2000 human rights report estimated that 15,000 child slaves work on the cocoa, cotton and coffee farms in the West African country.

The Ivorian government and cocoa operators insist that reports of such slavery have been exaggerated, however, and the memorandum calls for an extensive survey of the farms and plantations throughout the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria. Investigators are already surveying thousands of farms, and their preliminary results are expected later this month.

“No one knows how extensive this problem is,” said Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. “We don’t know if it’s four farms, 400 farms, 4,000 farms.”

Graham added that the memorandum is an “important step” to dealing with the problem.

The memorandum also calls for an international foundation to begin operations in July, with the task of devising specific recommendations on how to deal with child slavery, including tougher laws and regional educational programmes to warn parents in five West African countries.

“The real solution is going to come with programs on the ground, and this sets up a structure to do that,” said Graham.

The full text of the memorandum is available by clicking here

To read a just-food.com feature on the cocoa slaves, click here.

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