The cacao industry has always struggled with human rights concerns related to the farming and  harvesting of cacao. As a solution to this issue, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was created to encourage eight of the largest chocolate conglomerates to better the industry as a whole.

This blogpost will be the first of a series of three blog posts highlighting the story of the Harkin-Engel Protocol.

With up to six million cacao farmers world wide, 40 to 50 million people collectively depend on cacao for their livelihood. With an annual global market value of over 5.1 billion dollars, cacao is unarguably a valuable resource  Sadly, this has led to industry practices that focus on maximising profits by any means necessary. 

Slave labour is an unfortunate issue in the cacao industry. The human rights issues related to cacao farming include but are not limited to underage workers and child slavery. Many organizations have worked for decades to shift the industry towards a safer and more ethical environment for all shareholders, but it has proved to be a difficult problem to solve.

Cacao fruit
Cacao flower inside

A notable attempt (read: attempt) at reducing the dark side of the cacao industry is the Harkin-Engel Protocol. 

The Harkin-Engel Protocol (sometimes called the Cocoa Protocol) is an international agreement written in 2001 facilitated by Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Eliot Engel to end the child  and forced labour occuring in the growing  and harvesting of cacao. The protocol was voluntary and partnered with governments, the global cocoa industry, cocoa producers, cocoa labourers, and non-governmental organizations.

This agreement was presented to and signed by eight of the biggest global chocolate manufacturers – ADM, Barry Callebaut, Guittard, World’s Finest Chocolate, The Hershey Company, Blommer Chocolate, Mars, and Nestlé, and was endorsed by the Côte d’Ivoire government, the child labor office of the International Labor Organization, Free the Slaves, the Child Labor Coalition, the International Cocoa Organization and the National Consumer League.

It limited the eight manufacturers to a seven year timeline, where they agreed to work towards eliminating the worst forms of unethical labour in the cacao supply chain by 2008. The Harkin-Engel Protocol was also signed by two US senators, one US congressman, the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, and multiple NGO and industry alliance representatives.

The  Protocol had these eight companies agree to a six-article plan:

  1. A public statement stating the need for and terms of an action plan to acknowledge the problem of forced child labour and the significant resources that must be committed to address the problem.
  2. Multi-sectoral advisory groups must be formed. By October 2001 an advisory group should be formed to research labour practices, and by December 2001 an advisory group should be tasked with determining how to address this child labour issue.
  3. A signed joint statement on child labour should be witnessed by the International Labour Organizaion, and by December 2001 a statement must be made that recongnizes the need to end the worst forms of child labour.
  4. By May 2002, a joint action program must be established for research, information exchange, and action to enforce the standards that will eventually eliminate this child labour.
  5. By July 2002, the industry should form a foundation to oversee efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
  6. By July 2005, the industry should develop and implement industry-wide standards of public certification to show that cacao products have been grown without any of the worst forms of child labour.

This Protocol seemed to be the solution that the cacao industry had been waiting for. Finally, the worst offenders for human rights issues in cacao production acknowledged the problem, and have even agreed to help!

But, this fairytale story doesn’t last long. This commitment proved to be naive, overly ambitious, and unenforceable. By 2008 it was found that very little had been done to move closer towards the goal outlines in the original agreement, and slave labour was an issue in the cacao industry more than ever. 

And that’s only the beginning…. 

Read the next part of this three-part blog series here.


Living Lotus- Audrey

Audrey is the founder of Living Lotus Food & Nutrition Inc. a plant-based dessert and food education company in Vancouver, BC. Trained as a certified Whole Food Educator and Raw Food Chef, she is passionate about Making Health Sweet and empowering people to make better food choices. She enjoys playing in the kitchen, yoga, sewing & riding her bike in the sun.

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