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Ms King: Did some people not believe that the industry had not moved quickly enough on fair trade chocolate? We are pleased about the current movement because we are now considering people's dignity and rights as human beings, not their right to a job in, for example, the American steel industry.

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. Her commitment and passion on this subject are well recognised by the House and the wider public. As hon. Members have said, the cocoa industry and chocolate producers in our country and the United States have risen to the challenge put to them by public opinion and by organisations such as Anti-Slavery International. In that sense, they may be ahead of international commodity production and manufacturing organisations in other nations. Again, the leadership from the United Kingdom and from American senators, American NGOs and American companies shows that although on some issues we have much to criticise about aspects of what the United States does, in this regard, the United States and the United Kingdom are ahead of the game compared with many other players in Europe and elsewhere.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I wonder whether he could share some information about what specific action Her Majesty's Government are taking on the implementation of the protocol.

Mr. MacShane: I am coming to that very point.

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The issue hit the headlines last year when there were reports of a ship off Benin, the Etireno, having a full cargo of slaves and being refused entry at different west African ports. Britain responded to the plight of the Etireno and sent HMS Glasgow to the bight of Benin to help to find out exactly what was going on.

We know that that particular incident has been somewhat exaggerated. The children on board were in a terrible condition, but there were not 200 of them, and there was little evidence of a link between the Etireno and the cocoa industry. However, the publicity and the action of diverting a Royal Navy vessel to the area helped to draw attention to the problems of child trafficking and child labour in west Africa.

Shortly after the Etireno incident, my predecessor at the Foreign Office, who is now the Minister for Industry and Energy, called a meeting of representatives of the cocoa trade, the Governments of Côte d'Ivoire and of Ghana, the chocolate industry here, and leading NGOs to discuss the issue. A follow-up workshop was held last summer, at which a taskforce was set up.

In parallel, there was a push in the United States by Senators Harkin and Engel to commit the cocoa industry to a global protocol. That protocol seeks to ensure active efforts by the industry to ensure that International Labour Organisation convention 182 on the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour is applied.

The United States chocolate industry signed up to the protocol on 19 September 2001. CAOBISCO, the association of the chocolate, biscuit and confectionery industries of the European Union, the European Cocoa Association and the International Cocoa Organisation, currently based in London but to relocate to Abidjan, all formally endorsed the global protocol. It has the support of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations, and of the ILO. It has been welcomed by the NGOs campaigning in the sector. Anti-Slavery International says:

Indeed, responding to the complaint that the protocol was focused exclusively on child labour and failed to address the possible problem of forced labour by adults, key industry and non-governmental actors agreed a joint statement extending their co-operation to include identifying and eliminating forced labour in line with ILO convention 29. That reinforces the role of the ILO and its vital tripartite negotiations on these grave social issues globally.

As for the points raised by hon. Members, the first step in implementing the protocol was the establishment of an advisory group—the broad consultative group—which was established on 1 December last year. Industry- financed surveys are in progress on the ground, because it is vital that we establish the facts. The attention that the media rightly draw to the problem is to be welcomed, but a headline report—even a very professional broadcasting report—does not obviate the need for proper investigation of the facts.

Three surveys are being conducted, under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development, the International Institute for Tropical

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Agriculture and the International Labour Organisation. The surveys—of farms and farmers, of communities, and of small-scale producers and workers on the farms—should provide the most authoritative assessment so far of the scale of the problem of exploitative labour in cocoa production. We expect the results to emerge shortly—before the end of the summer, we hope. The taskforce does not belong to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but we expect members of it to reconvene to examine the outcome of the surveys, and to take their conclusions to a major conference review—planned by the Côte d'Ivoire—on the findings. Indeed, the ILO is fully involved in shaping a response to the survey.

As we know, the global protocol has set the ambitious target of establishing by July 2005 an industry-wide scheme to certify that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown and processed without using any of the worst forms of child labour. There is a long way to go before that is achieved, but I believe that the chocolate industry's response to international concern about the use of child labour in cocoa production provides a good example of what we now call corporate social responsibility.

None of us should be in any doubt about the difficulties involved in ensuring that there is absolutely no abuse of child labour in cocoa production. About 70 per cent. of the world's cocoa comes from west Africa. The four largest producers are Côte d'Ivoire, which produces 40 per cent., Ghana, which produces 15 per cent., Nigeria, which produces 7 per cent., and Cameroon, which produces 4 per cent. Cocoa is grown in some of the least accessible forest areas of west Africa. It is a very small-scale industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham noted, there are well over 500,000 producers in Côte d'Ivoire alone.

Cocoa grows naturally in west Africa, so minimal inputs are needed. At harvest time, middlemen—many of whom are Lebanese—drive to the forest areas in trucks and purchase the cocoa from the producers. The cocoa beans are then dried in Abidjan before being sold on. Most are sold to large cocoa bean traders and pressers—such as Cargill, Barry Callebaut and Arch Daniels Midland—before being sold on again to the chocolate companies whose names we all know. So there is quite a long chain: from small farm production to the sale in shops of chocolate bars and boxes of chocolates. In this respect, cocoa differs from the tea or coffee industry, in which it is more common for multinational companies to own the farms directly.

Local ownership of cocoa farms has many advantages. For example, it gives local producers greater discretion to take their own decisions in the light of their own interests. However, the long chain between producer and consumer makes it more difficult to monitor production, and to ensure that there is no use of exploitative labour. Tomorrow, Cadbury's European works council will meet in Birmingham. Although some chocolate producers in Britain have trade union organisations, the chance of creating such organisations on the small farms of the Côte d'Ivoire is, alas, virtually nil. We must seek the means to address that problem.

There is one point of principle that the House should be aware of. Whatever the level of child labour in cocoa production—I hope that the surveys that I mentioned will

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soon provide better information on that—there is no doubt that child trafficking in its broadest sense is a considerable problem in west Africa. Typically, children are lured from, or sold from, very poor countries—notably Mali and Burkina Faso—to other west African countries to work in domestic service, as beggars, or in other areas of the economy.

Britain has had a leading role in establishing the legal framework to prevent abusive child labour. We played a major part in ensuring agreement in 1999 on ILO convention 182 on the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. That convention, on which the cocoa industry's global protocol is based, outlaws in particular all slavery, sale and trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom and forced or compulsory labour of children.

We have worked hard, and diplomats from the Foreign Office are asking Governments to work hard, to ensure that the convention is ratified. Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Niger ratified in 2000. I am pleased to report that the Gambia, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Benin ratified in 2001 and Cameroon ratified earlier this month. The Côte d'Ivoire Government tell us that ratification has completed its parliamentary procedures, and that deposit of their instrument of ratification is imminent.

Work on child labour is an important element of the Department for International Development's partnership framework with the ILO. The Department is also supporting the anti-slavery international project to develop the capacity of local NGOs to end the trafficking and abuse of child domestic workers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Niger and Togo.

As hon. Members have pointed out, it is the economic framework within which the abuses take place on which we need to concentrate much of the Foreign Office's policy. In some cases, labour by young family members on a farm is not necessarily bad. However, the root cause of child labour and child trafficking is poverty, and that is what we must tackle. That is why I am proud that the Government are leaders in the poverty reduction instrument known as the HIPC—heavily indebted poor countries—initiative.

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Burkina Faso has gone through the HIPC process and reached completion point, thus receiving irrevocable debt reduction, and Ghana, Cameroon and Mali have reached decision point, so are receiving some interim relief on their debt servicing.

We must also try to develop fair trade systems for poor countries. At the moment, the combined subsidies for agriculture in the EU, North America and Japan amount to more than the combined GDP of sub-Saharan Africa. We give about $50 billion a year in aid worldwide, but we provide $360 billion dollars in subsidies to our farmers, thus crowding out the produce of the poorest of the world. We need to keep fighting to ensure that the terms of trade are fair, and that there is, for example, no tariff or subsidy escalation.

The combined pressure of my hon. Friends, NGOs, concerned individuals in the industry and, above all, consumers has achieved a great deal. The taskforce set up by the Foreign Office last year has helped to bring together producer countries, the industry and NGOs. The industry has been spurred into action and, to its credit, has accepted and started to shoulder its responsibility. Much has to be done. It is no use simply having meetings in London if on the ground local managers and representatives are not responding to the wishes and desires of the industry leaders in the taskforce.

Consumers can continue to play a role in demonstrating their preference for products that have been produced fairly. The fact that they are prepared to pay a little more sends an important message, but ultimately the goal must be to ensure that all production is fair. I am glad that my hon. Friends stressed the point that boycotts would only damage the most vulnerable growers, increasing the problem of poverty, and so increasing the likelihood of abuse of children.

There is no immediate or easy solution to the problem of exploitative labour practices in cocoa production, but I believe that a good start has been made to tackling it. That is a small but vital part of what the Foreign Office does on behalf of the people of Britain. I end, as I began, by thinking that William Wilberforce would heartily approve of the action we are taking, and I thank hon. Members for the contributions that they have made to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

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