Chocolate Ingredients / Opinion

Are we doing enough?

Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak's reaction to child labor issues has evolved and so has the industry's response.

Bernie Pacyniak, Editor-in-Chief

When I first started working for Candy Industry more than a decade ago, my knowledge about the industry was at best rudimentary. It was also unbiased. Hence, when the first headlines about child labor began to surface, I did what every good journalist should: research the hell out of the topic.

As an independent B-to-B magazine serving the industry, it’s critical for Candy Industry to highlight not only successes but challenges as well. Moreover, given our “embeddedness,” it behooves us to be that “voice of reason” within the media.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that my initial reaction about our industry’s reaction to the news swirling about child labor back then ranged from disappointment to impatience. Only after discussing the issues and context with a good friend of mine, Bill Ryan from ADM Cocoa, who’s now what I’d call semi-retired, did I realize the complexity of resolving the child labor issue.  I’ll always be grateful to Bill for him taking me under his wing, so to speak.

I also think that many of the confectionery organizations, which included the National Confectioners Association and the then-Chocolate Manufacturers Association were caught a bit off guard by the media scrutiny and intensity.

Fast forward to today and what’s the progress report on child labor? Well, objectively I can say that this industry has come together globally as few other industries have in addressing an ugly truth. Since signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol agreement in 2001, the cocoa and chocolate industry has made great strides in identifying where child labor occurs. In addition, it has poured millions of dollars into building schools, training teachers, improving farmer education and emphasizing improved cultivation techniques.

Nearly two years ago, on Sept. 13, 2010, the industry recommitted itself when it joined Congressmen Harkin and Engel, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana governments by signing the Declaration of Action and Framework of Action. The new agreement sharpens the focus and establishes a clear goal of reducing the worst forms of child labor in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2020.

Yet, it remains obvious to industry critics and supporters alike that there’s much more work to be done. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as simply saying everyone should be buying Fair Trade chocolate. Estimates suggest that Fair Trade accounts for only 3% of all cocoa processed — well short of global demand.

Moreover, there are several midsized and small manufacturers who have personally worked on developing contacts with farmers that emulate the goals associated with Fair Trade chocolate and other certifying organizations, such as the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ.

But it’s not merely a labeling issue; it’s about true sustainability, which comes down to economics. In the end, cocoa farming should provide individuals with the means of earning a living.  

What’s critical is ensuring that growing and harvesting cocoa provides farmers a decent wage, one that allows for the basic necessities of life, including sending children to school. The era of cheap cocoa has come to an end and that message must be communicated across the industry and to consumers so that we can preserve this wonderful “gift of the gods” for future generations.

Improving farmer incomes, however, represents only one aspect of the effort to eradicate child labor. Education, investment and inspection all come into play. The legitimate question for all of us within the industry, more than a decade after the Knight-Ridders series on child labor took the industry by storm, is whether we as an industry are doing enough?

I’ve been to West Africa only once, a trip organized by the World Cocoa Foundation that took a group of us to visit the cocoa farms of Ghana and discuss issues with the government and industry leaders. I can tell you that you only begin to appreciate the challenges of solving child labor when you’re actually experiencing the culture, terrain and infrastructure of a country. Mix in civil conflict and the realities of solving child labor can be overwhelming.

Still, the question continues to nag me, both personally and as the editor of Candy Industry. Am I, is the magazine doing enough? Are we, as an industry, doing enough?

It’s something we all have to come to terms with, and I promise to address it both personally and professionally. In the end, that’s usually how solutions come about, through personal commitments. 

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