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The European Commission is being urged to draft mandatory rules to tackle child labour and deforestation in the cocoa sector and could use due diligence to ensure that companies comply

Legislation is being drafted that would place a due diligence obligation on importers in the EU to ensure that they do not import cocoa linked to child labour or illegal deforestation.

Proposals seen by C&CI suggest the use of a combination of demand-side and supply-side measures to prevent companies importing cocoa and other commodities such as coffee known to have been produced using child labour.

Renewed calls for mandatory legislation came a matter of months after the final declaration at the fourth World Cocoa Conference recognised that ‘voluntary compliance has not led to sufficient impact’, and that ‘stakeholders should strengthen human rights due diligence across the supply chain, including through potential regulatory measures by governments.’

Parliamentary hearing held

The proposed legislation, due to be discussed again by EU parliamentarians later this year, follows a European Union parliamentary hearing held in Brussels on 11 July, ‘Cocoa and Coffee – devastating rainforests and driving child labour: the role of EU consumption and how the EU could help.’

This first-ever hearing on the subject has been hailed as a significant step in the right direction to ‘clean up’ the chocolate industry. The hearing was well attended by MEPs, their staff, Commission staff, a number of Directorates including DG-Trade, DGDEVCO, and DG-Environment, and also by a senior representative of Unicef and several ambassadors.

MEPs and Commission staff acknowledged that the EU is the world’s leading importer, manufacturer, and consumer of cocoa and that the EU has a responsibility for child labour and other problems associated with it.

Politicians from a number of political parties, the MEPs Linda McAvan (chair of the Parliament’s Development Committee), Heidi Hautala (Vice President of the European Parliament), Ignazio Corrao, David Martin, and Lola Sanchez called for binding legislation to stop cocoa from coming into the EU if it is linked to child labour and deforestation. They expressed a strong determination to get an EU law passed soon.

MEPs determined to bring in legislation

One MEP after another hammered home the fact that voluntary industry action on cocoa has failed. Likewise, NGOs speaking made a unified call for the introduction of mandatory due diligence legislation.

Representatives of the largest chocolate manufacturers, who attended the hearing, agreed that a law would be ‘welcome’, and a government of Ghana representative suggested an EU law would be ‘desirable.’

Ms McAvan, who hosted the event, said there was a “near-consensus” at the meeting that EU regulation is needed.

The hearing also raised criticism of EU trade agreements with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, highlighting the need for agreements to include better protection against deforestation and child labour.

Prior to the meeting on 11 July, a coalition of NGOs* called on EU policymakers to protect tropical forests and the 2.1 million children working in cocoa. The civil society organisations called on the EU to pass legislation to end human rights violations and environmental destruction in cocoa supply chains.

Urgent action by lawmakers required

The NGOs said the chocolate industry’s current approach to eliminate child labour and to end deforestation would not be sufficient without legislation. “Voluntary schemes have played a role in encouraging companies to introduce more sustainable sourcing practices, but a lot more needs to be done,” they said. “Urgent action by lawmakers is required, including in the EU.”

“Cocoa has been driving 30 per cent of overall deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and destroying other forests from Asia to the Amazon,” said Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth. Sergi Corbalán of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office added that cocoa must be ‘good for people as well as planet.’

He said “child labour is a consequence of poverty. Better prices must be paid to cocoa farmers to enable them to secure a living income.”

The NGOs believe that ending child labour in cocoa will require legislation in producing and consuming countries. “The EU must rise to the challenge, as Europe is the number one importer, manufacturer, and consumer of chocolate worldwide – and home to the biggest chocolate companies,” said Fern spokesperson Julia Christian.■ C&CI

This extract is from an article that first appeared in the September’18 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read the article in full and other informative articles in the September and future issues of C&CI.




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