WASHINGTON: According to the Associated Press (AP), child welfare groups have filed a federal lawsuit seeking a judge to order the Biden administration to stop importing chocolate farmed by minors in West Africa.

The case, filed by International Rights Advocates, seeks to have the federal government implement a federal provision from the 1930s that requires the government to prohibit child labour products from entering the United States.

According to the nonprofit group, the lawsuit was launched because Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security ignored overwhelming evidence demonstrating children producing cocoa for well-known US confectionery makers.

The major chocolate companies pledged to end their reliance on child labour to harvest their cocoa by 2005. They say they will eliminate the worst forms of child labour in their supply chains by 2025.

“They will never stop until they are forced to,” said International Rights Advocates’ executive director Terry Collingsworth. He added that the US government can “end this incredible abuse of African children by enforcing the law.”

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Terrence Collingsworth, Executive Director of International Rights Advocates, and translator Melina Cardinal Bradette speak to youngsters working on a cocoa farm in Daloa, Ivory Coast, in April 2020. | Miki Mistrati/International Rights Advocates via AP

Spokespeople for CBP declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in the US Court of International Trade. When asked more generally about cocoa produced by child labour, the federal agency said it was “unable to disclose additional information or plans regarding forced labour enforcement activities due to protections of law enforcement sensitive and business confidential information.”

Children cultivating cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire, popularly known as the Ivory Coast and neighbouring Ghana, is not a new practice. Human rights activists, academics, news organisations, and even federal authorities have spent the last two decades highlighting the issue of children working on cocoa plantations in West African countries that generate roughly 70% of the world’s chocolate supply.

A 2019 research commissioned by the US government, the University of Chicago, found 790,000 children, some as young as 5, working in Ivory Coast cocoa fields. Researchers discovered a similar condition in neighbouring Ghana.

To try to force companies to abandon cocoa produced by child labour, International Rights Advocates has sued some of the world’s large chocolate companies over using child labour in harvesting cocoa beans. It lost a case before the Supreme Court in 2021. Several others are pending.

Pressured by lawmakers and advocates, major chocolate makers in 2001 agreed to stop purchasing cocoa produced by child labour. Experts and industry officials say that goal still needs to be met.

The World Cocoa Foundation, representing major cocoa companies, said it is committed to “improving livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their communities.”

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