26 February, 2008

Stop the Traffik Responds.

Stop the Traffik is extremely disappointed that Kevin Bales has posted such an aggressive and unhelpful response to the Stop the Traffik campaign (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3666055403717960332&postID=6227638341898591219). Stop the Traffik stands by all we have said and will continue to fight for the independent certification of cocoa in Ivory Coast, to end child trafficking in that country, a problem which the chocolate industry, governments and NGOs all recognise as a serious issue.

Recently Stop the Traffik met with the head of the International Cocoa Initiative, Peter McAllister, the organisation that Kevin Bales sits on the board of and whose activities he promotes in his posting. At the meeting McAllister promised to publicly endorse the Stop the Traffik campaign. He also described us as taking what could be complimentary approaches to the same end of stopping human trafficking; the ICI working with industry, while Stop the Traffik works to hold them to account. We are therefore very surprised to see, instead of an endorsement, a public attack by an ICI board member.

The ICI admits that there is a problem with child trafficking in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast. It is working to establish projects to help communities combat this problem, but has not received the backing of Industry to the extent that it can make a significant impact. According to latest reports, the ICI has reached 88 communities in Ivory Coast so far, since the problem of slavery in cocoa production was highlighted in 2001. Given that there are 600,000 cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, this seems like good work, on a small scale. Is it a safety net for children as Mr Bales claims? No, sadly it is not. Is slavery being eradicated in village after village across the region? Sadly, despite the valiant efforts of the ICI, it is no where near making that sort of progress. As Aidan McQuade, director of Anti Slavery International recently said, “Now the industry needs to put its money where its mouth is, to get West African children off farms and back into school where they belong.”

Crucially, Mr Bales makes no mention at all of the certification process, which is curious given that it is the centre-piece of the Harkin/Engel protocol, the agreement Industry signed up to in order to try to end the worst forms of child labour including human trafficking, in the cocoa supply chain. It was from this agreement that the ICI was born. The protocol promised that “Industry, in partnership with other major stakeholders will develop and implement credible, mutually acceptable, voluntary, industry-wide standards of public certification, consistent with applicable federal law, that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labour”. In other words, industry promised to ensure that only farms which were certified as free from trafficked labour could supply the cocoa that makes our chocolate.

Without industry's fulfilment of this promise, slavery will never be eradicated from the cocoa industry. Industry promised to deliver this by July 2005, it failed. Now they are changing the definition of certification so it becomes a mere survey. This is not good enough, and must be very disappointing for the work of Mr Bales and the ICI.

Stop the Traffik is committed to ending the trafficking of thousands of children who work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. The ordinary cocoa farmer is not involved in exploiting children, but significant numbers of children are being abused. We invite Kevin Bales to stand with us and other serious organisations, in calling for farm level certification of cocoa beans to show that the cocoa supply chain is free from trafficked labour. There is movement already towards this, with Cargill, Nestlé and Mars joining with the certification organisation UTZ, to try to find a way forward outside of the Harkin/Engel protocol. There is a long way to go on this, but we believe that we should work together to make sure that Industry fulfils its obligations so that the work of many organisations, governments and individuals is not in vain.

Steve Chalke,
Chair of Stop the Traffik
UN.GIFT Special Advisor on Community Action against Human Trafficking.


International Cocoa Initiative said...

The recent exchange between Kevin Bales and Steve Chalke raises a number of concerns; the primary one being that we need all our energy for what I believe is our common objective, the elimination of child trafficking and child labour in cocoa or wherever it is found in the world. Both Kevin and Steve have made great contributions to raising the awareness of consumers, governments and industries of the presence of child labour and their responsibilities in the elimination of these atrocious practices.

Child labour and trafficked labour are a feature of cocoa production in West Africa although most cocoa is produced on smallholder family farms. The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) is committed to the elimination of these atrocious practices.

The ICI was created with the underlying belief that these practices need to be tackled by partnerships at various levels, from developing policy to implementing programmes on the ground that promote education and change lives. Increased consumer awareness of the impact of their choices is an important part of this effort. ICI supports responsible and informed campaigning that helps align consumer demands for ethical products with real efforts on the ground. There is always a risk that in making an eye catching presentation of a complex subject we may demonise those, invariably poor producers, who at the end of a product supply chain. ICI’s programme has shown that these same producers do care about their children and are ready to invest in education as well as identify cases of trafficking if given the right support. The challenge before us now is to scale up these programmes in partnership with others to change the way cocoa is grown.

It is not ICI’s role to endorse any organisation whether for profit or not for profit, but to share what we know and encourage an informed debate to drive real change in the lives of children in cocoa producing countries.

Kevin said...

It’s good news that Stop the Traffik is no longer calling for destructive and dangerous boycotts of cocoa products, boycotts that would have threatened the livelihood of farm families throughout West Africa. Eradicating slavery in West Africa and around the world will require all of us working together. Free the Slaves welcomes the helpful efforts of everyone.

It seems that Stop the Traffik is going through a similar learning journey that many have gone through. Upon hearing about slavery in the products we consume, it’s a common reaction to simply say “get that product as far away from me as possible!” It would have made us feel good to boycott. It would have made Free the Slaves look courageous to Americans who have that same initial reaction. It would have been easier for us to raise money for our organization.

But that’s not the way to end slavery. When our work helped uncover slavery in cocoa in 2000, what human rights and community organizations closest to the problem in West Africa told us was to please avoid a boycott at all costs. The economy of Ivory Coast rests on cocoa to a large degree, and a boycott would have had disastrous effects, putting many more people in desperate situations where they are more vulnerable to slavery. There were ethnic tensions as well, and local folks worried about increased violence towards immigrants who were more likely to be enslaved than Ivorians. Instead of imposing ideas that may sound good in the US or Europe, it’s critical to listen to what the communities themselves see as the best way to end slavery. So we sought out ways to provide the anti-slavery solutions that the communities themselves knew would work.

I felt a personal responsibility as well as an organizational responsibility with Free the Slaves to prevent harmful action. I helped produce the documentary that first exposed the crime of slavery in cocoa production, a documentary that was based on my book, Disposable People. So you can imagine the horror I felt when we began to hear US and European activists call for a boycott! If they had succeeded in their efforts, I would have inadvertently helped cause more slavery. My intent was to help expose the problem so that the global community could rally around those who were helping to combat it, and garner funds and political will to end slavery in that region and in that industry for good. I thought we would be working hard directly helping the folks on the ground bringing people out of slavery, not needing to work hard to convince US and European groups to not make things worse.

It was a challenging moment for Free the Slaves. We knew we were standing on the side of the slaves, but yet we were being shot at from many directions, even from some NGOs whom we counted as friends. It hurt, but the good news is that after groups learned more about the actual situation on the ground, calls for boycotts decreased. Support for the work of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and the multi-stakeholder initiative called the Harkin-Engel Cocoa Protocol strengthened.

Additional efforts popped up too. We are encouraged to see that since the time we helped break this story, there has been a significant increase in attention to slavery and child labor in cocoa. More NGO programs, awareness campaigns, etc. resulted, including the activities that Steve mentioned in his post. These can be a part of the solution, as long as they are pulling in the direction of sustainable freedom and human rights for the communities at risk. It’s great to advocate for Fair Trade cocoa and other good programs. They do not replace the ICI and the Cocoa Protocol, however, since the Protocol aims to root out slavery and abusive child labor among all people involved in cocoa production, not only those who are involved in a specific type of cooperative. But certainly efforts like Fair Trade can be complementary.

Specific to Steve’s concerns:

First, as Peter McAllister’s post points out, it is not the International Cocoa Initiative’s (ICI) role to endorse any other entity or campaign.

Second, yes, we agree that the work of the ICI should be scaled up, and as quickly as the ICI can responsibly take it to scale. This is precisely the type of community-led anti-slavery initiative that West African groups closest to the problem were calling for, and that Free the Slaves has found works most effectively and sustainably around the world, and we are proud of our role in helping to shape the ICI’s work in this manner. Starting with a handful of communities and villages, it has now expanded to more than 100 communities (and growing) that have actively engaged in removing child and slave labor. The model is proven, and now the ICI needs more resources, including from industries that are currently using cocoa and other crops from those same farms but are getting a free ride.

Third, I’m sure Steve will be relieved to know that there is a basic safety net in place. Today, after years of hard work, there is a designated shelter and a designated service provider ready to receive and care for those freed from slavery. When kids and adults are found in harmful situations in cocoa-growing regions and should be removed, there is a shelter and basic social services waiting. No, it’s not enough, but it’s a big improvement from nothing. It’s also worth noting that this safety net system was created with cocoa in mind and is financed largely by the chocolate industry, but it is available for any person who is found in slavery or abusive labor situations regardless of the industry (and most slavery that happens in the Ivory Coast and Ghana is not for cocoa production). There is a long way to go, but the safety net is there and I thank God that it is, for it could be the difference between life and death for some child.

Fourth, regarding Steve’s concerns about certification, productive involvement is welcome! I know that Stop the Traffik is new to the issue of slavery in agriculture projects, and that the Protocol stakeholders have been asking for suggestions from the larger community for 3 years now, but it is a big job and not all of the kinks have been worked out and we are certainly happy for more help. Steve and others should let us know if they have expertise they would like to contribute. The subject of certification--particularly regarding the thorny and complex issues of slavery and child labor in West Africa--deserves a longer conversation than can be encapsulated in a short blog post. It is a very easy thing to call for a certification system that inspects commodities at the farm level, it is another thing entirely to design and implement such a system. To date, there has never been a certification system of this magnitude established anywhere in the developing world. We all have our work cut out for us.

Yes, the chocolate industry, and all other users of cocoa, need to do more and better, and so do the wholesalers, retailers, consumers, and NGOs. There is no moral watershed along the supply chain except the one that separates the criminal slaveholder from all the rest of us, consumers included, who benefit and thus must take responsibility for the slavery and child labor in the things we buy. I think if we all work together we’ll solve this problem more quickly. One part of achieving our common goal is, as we say in my faith community, to speak to that of God in every person, whether that person is a recalcitrant government minister, a chocolate company executive, or a poor farmer facing tough choices in a war-torn country.

In the entire 221 year history of the anti-slavery movement only one industry has ever joined together to make a unified response to slavery in their product chain. The Cocoa Protocol was the first multi-stakeholder initiative that Free the Slaves helped to create, but it won’t be the last. We and others are learning every day how to do this better the next time, rooting out slavery at its source. We don’t want businesses and consumers to turn their back on the communities in the world who are worst affected by slavery, but to engage with these communities and tackle the problem together. There are countless other products tainted by slavery. They and the people enslaved to produce them are getting no attention at all. We’ve got no time to waste and at the same time our work must be based on truth and careful thinking. I’m sure that Stop the Traffik and Free the Slaves agree that in the future we want our attention to be on these tasks, and not on each other.

Anonymous said...