With Easter nearly upon us, consumers will be purchasing a lot of candy over the next several days. In recent years, the chocolate industry has been rocked by a child labor scandal, when it became known that 80 percent of chocolate derives from the West African nations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where large numbers of children help harvest cocoa–the main ingredient of chocolate–under conditions that are extremely dangerous and difficult. In many cases, they use razor-sharp machetes and work without pay under circumstances that some advocates have likened to slavery.
How can consumers buy responsible candy—candy free from slavery and abusive child labor?
First, we recommend you check this chocolate scorecard developed by the group Green America in 2010. The groups that have been given an “A” grade are making a substantial effort to eliminate child labor and ensure that workers and farmers are fairly treated. We know “Divine” chocolate the best; they work with farmers cooperatives to reduce child labor and help farmers earn better prices.
The scorecard also explains various consumer certification programs like Fair Trade that try to ensure decent livelihoods for farmers and take steps to protect against child labor, although many child labor advocates recognize that monitoring efforts may not successfully ensure products are child-labor free.
In addition to purchasing chocolate that is child-labor free, NCL also advises consumers to purchase union-made products because we believe collective bargaining helps guarantee fair wages and decent benefits for workers. Check out this list of union-made candy, complied by Union Plus. The list represents the products produced by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM); the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and the fruit and nuts from members of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
Included on the list, which Green America compiled in 2010, are Hershey and Nestle – two companies that produce union made candy but have received poor grades on the chocolate scorecard. Hershey’s products (excluding “Hershey’s Bliss”) have been given an “F” grade in large part because of its extremely slow, lackluster response to child labor allegations. More recently, the company announced a certification scheme to ensure their products are child-labor free by the year 2020, but it doesn’t seem to be making any progress in enacting that scheme. Hershey currently is also facing a shareholder lawsuit over its refusal to release documents about the presence of child labor in its supply chain.Additionally, a few years ago, Hershey’s used a contractor that was accused of trafficking foreign students, essentially tricking them into signing up for a cultural exchange program and then forcing them to work in a factory. In 2009, a 29-year-old worker drowned in a vat of chocolate in a New Jersey factory that supplied chocolate to Hershey, raising questions about the company’s willingness to risk worker safety in its pursuit of low product cost.
CLC Member Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch: Will the US Be the Last Country to Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
As the children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is why the US has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Currently, only two other countries – South Sudan and Somalia – have yet to ratify the convention, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
But the US is now in danger of becoming a club of one. Last Wednesday, South Sudan’s parliament voted to ratify the convention. The same day – the 24th anniversary of the convention – Somalia’s president pledged that his country would ratify it soon.
South Sudan and Somalia have some reasonable excuses for not having ratified the child rights convention more quickly. South Sudan gained independence only two years ago, and Somalia has struggled for more than two decades to establish a functioning government. The US has no such defense.
One of the biggest barriers to US ratification is an aggressive misinformation campaign by “parental rights” organizations, claiming that the convention will undermine American families. These groups have promoted ludicrous scenarios of what will happen if the US ratifies the convention, saying parents will be put in prison if they fail to vaccinate their child, that children will be forced to sing songs about the United Nations in school, and that children will have to begin mandatory sex education at the age of four. None of these claims are true.
In reality, the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes numerous references to the importance of the family. It outlines rights that virtually every American parent would want for their child – the right to education, to development, and to protection from exploitation and abuse. None of the predicted “nightmare” scenarios have come to pass in the 193 countries that have ratified the convention. Instead, the convention has helped governments assess and improve their laws and policies for children.
US ratification is complicated only by the continued practice in the United States of sentencing child offenders to life in prison with no possibility of parole. The US is the only country to impose this punishment, which the convention specifically prohibits. Until it ends such sentencing, which has been whittled away by the Supreme Court in recent years, the US could enter a reservation to the convention, as it has done when ratifying other human rights treaties.
It’s a shame that a campaign that is at best misguided has helped keep the US out of a treaty that has nearly universal acceptance. The White House and US Senate should give the convention another look before the US finds itself in a minority of one.
[Originally published November 26, 2013 at www.hrw.org]