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New Attention Given to Child Cocoa Workers in Ivory Coast and Ghana

Children living in a cocoa-producing village near the town of Oume, Ivory Coast
Children living in a cocoa-producing village near the town of Oume, Ivory Coast

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, and more than half of those beans come from two countries in West Africa. But the situation is not all sweetness for poor cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast and neighboring Ghana. The United States has announced ten million dollars for renewed efforts to end the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry in those countries.

The grant will support efforts to reduce poverty so parents do not have to depend on the labor of their children. Another aim is to give children more access to education.

The money will go toward a new "Framework of Action" related to an international agreement from two thousand one. That agreement is called the Harkin-Engel Protocol. American Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Elliott Engel led negotiations with the chocolate and cocoa industries.

The Department of Labor announced the grant in September, along with seven million dollars promised by the international cocoa industry. The governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast have also promised resources and policy support for the new efforts.

Kevin Willcutts is an official in the Labor Department's Office of Child Labor.

KEVIN WILLCUTTS: "We’re at a point in time when we think we have a real opportunity because with the signing of this joint declaration, the parties are coming together and saying that we share a common commitment to address the situation and to offer children better hope for the future through education."

Daan de Vries is with Utz Certified, a program that tries to create a fair marketplace for agricultural products. Mr. de Vries says some crops are grown closer to cities because they must be processed quickly.

But he says crops like cocoa and coffee are often grown in very rural areas with more poverty and less enforcement of rules.

Bama Athreya directs the International Labor Rights Forum.

BAMA ATHREYA: "There's been a real unwillingness to act that I think is driven by the business proposition of getting cheap child labor to produce the cocoa for quite some time. And that is a major challenge."

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association in Washington, represented industry groups at the launch of the framework. He said "Our industry is fully committed to helping even more cocoa farming families through this innovative partnership."

Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa grower. But the country has been split in half since a failed overthrow in two thousand two led to armed conflict. A long-delayed presidential election is set for this Sunday.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson, with Drew Hinshaw reporting from Senegal. I'm Bob Doughty.