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Engel Remarks on Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry

ENGEL REMARKS ON CHILD LABOR IN THE COCOA INDUSTRY

- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks about child labor in cocoa production at a meeting of the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG):

“Thank you.  Thank you Kevin, and thank you everybody.  Thank you for that wonderful, I guess introduction, and thank you for being here. 

“I was just meeting with the next President of the United States and I won’t tell you who it is, but I enjoyed meeting with her.  So, thank you and welcome to Capitol Hill.  This is a gathering I look forward to every single year.  We’ve had it at the Department of Labor the past few years.  It’s much more convenient for me to have it here, so I really like it this

year.

“And let me first welcome some guests who’ve traveled such a long way to be with us.  I hope I don’t butcher these names.  If I do, please forgive me: The Honorable Joseph Amenowode; Minister Haruna Iddrisu; and from Ghana’s Embassy here in Washington, Deputy Head of Mission Mr. Skido Achulo; and Minister Moussa Dosso; and Ambassador Daouda Diabatefrom Côte D’Ivoire; as well as Madame Yao, representing Côte D’Ivoire’s First Lady.

“I was sorry to miss Deputy Secretary Lu, but I welcome our other Labor Department colleagues.  For years, your expertise and commitment helped drive forward the important work of combating child labor.           

“And I want to acknowledge our partners from the cocoa industry, including Tim McCoy from the World Cocoa Foundation, who has embraced this issue and made such a big difference.

“You know, my grandmother used to say to me, ‘You’ll see when you get older how quickly the years fly by.’  And she was right.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 15 years since some of us sat down initially and signed an agreement that was the first of its kind: a private-public compact to root out the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry.

“You know, when I heard about this, initially, I couldn’t believe it.  And when I put the vote on the House floor and we won it, I was very surprised.  And when I needed a partner in the Senate and I was thinking who’d be my best partner to work with me on this, I thought of wonderful ex-Senator Tom Harkin.  And that’s how we started the Harkin-Engel Protocol. 

“And Tom, who is no longer in the Senate, but obviously we owe a great deal of the work we’ve done to, to him.  And I think about this work with him all the time, because this truly has his stamp on it.  And a very important stamp, of course, for many years.

“So, every day, when I walk into my office upstairs on the fourth floor, I look at that document hanging on my wall, which is the Harkin-Engel Protocol, and I think about what led to that moment. 

“We all remember the horrific and dangerous conditions that children faced working in the West African cocoa industry.  I’ll never forget that tragedy firsthand when I visited Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.  And I remember I took my son with me and it made a lasting impression on him. 

“It’s really interesting because I went there with Bernie Sanders and Tom Harkin and myself, and we flew in in a small plane.  And the other day when I was addressing something in my District, someone put a slide on, and it was Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, and me in dashikis.  You wouldn’t believe those pictures. 

“But I’ll never forget seeing the tragedy firsthand.  We remember the resistance we faced in some corners, and the desire of some people to sweep this problem under the rug.  And we remember the courage and the commitment shown by governments and the private sector when the extent of this problem became clear.

“A great deal went into making the protocol a reality.  But by no means was that the finish line.  If anything, it was the first step on a much larger, longer journey.  Because without follow-through, without learning more about the problem of child labor and looking for new ways to tackle it, without building on the protocol with new innovations and stronger commitments, then it’s nothing more than a piece of paper hanging on the wall.

“That’s why we joined together, all of us, to sign the Declaration of Joint Action in 2010, to reaffirm our commitment to implement the protocol.  That’s why we crafted the Framework of Action, to lay out how we aimed to achieve our goal by reducing the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry by 70 percent by the year 2020.  And that’s why we gather every year around the release of the Coordinating Group’s report, and that’s what we’re doing now, to take stock of what we’ve accomplished and determine how to move forward.

“Now I, I must say, part of making progress on any problem is by admitting that it’s a problem.  And I really want to thank the Governments of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire for allowing us into their countries and allowing them to work with us, side-by-side, admitting that there’s a problem.  And we all have a common goal of eradicating the problem.  So I really do want to thank the governments of both countries.

“So we’ve accomplished a great deal.  And thanks to the Labor Department—of course, the Labor Department’s been absolutely terrific with this—and our private-sector partners, more than $20 million has been put to work on a range of priorities, from school construction to the type of in-depth research that will help shine a brighter light on this challenge.

“And at the same time, our approach to this issue has helped pave the way for how we deal with a range of foreign-policy priorities. A generation ago, we may have looked at child labor as a horrible abuse and an abhorrent practice, but then asked, ‘Well, what does this have to do with foreign policy?’  Well, more and more, we’ve come to understand that challenges like child labor are often connected to much bigger problems across a community, a country, or an entire region. 

“For example, when children are working rather than going to school, it may mean a population is less productive and innovative.  When labor abuses are allowed to go unchecked, it often means justice systems and the rule of law aren’t as strong as they should be.  So by grappling with the challenges such as child labor, we start to address broader challenges that can weigh down entire societies.  And when we start to find solutions to those problems, countries grow more stable and prosperous, and become stronger partners on the global stage.

“Those ideas are at the core of Harkin-Engel Protocol, and they have become a central part how we craft our foreign policy.                                                  

“But we know, when it comes to the worst forms of child labor, we still have a great deal of unfinished business.  Too many children continue dangerous work on cocoa farms.  Too many families cannot afford fees to keep their kids in school, or depend too heavily on their children’s income from working on a farm.  So we know that we still have progress to make. We know that we still a way to go.

“You know, I always kind of look at some of the media when they say, ‘Well, you know it’s now 2016, and are we as far down in reaching our goals as we thought we’d be?  We haven’t reached this goal; we haven’t reached that goal.’  So rather than nitpick it, I tend to look at it the opposite way.  Sort of like the proverbial, is the glass half-full or is the glass half-empty? We haven’t accomplished everything we’ve wanted to accomplish, but we’re on our way and we’re moving in the right direction.  And we have cooperation by the industry, by the government, by the United States, by the Department of Labor, by the President.  That’s important.

“So I think that we’re moving in a very positive direction.  And although every box hasn’t yet been checked, we’re checking them more and more.  And I want to thank everybody involved with it.

“So we need to stay focused on our goals for the year 2020.  We need to keep looking for new ways to expand access to education and to crack down on abusive practices in cocoa production.  We need to remain committed to the idea that all children—in Ghana, in Côte D’Ivoire, and everywhere—deserve the same opportunities and the same chance to live the lives they chose for themselves.

“So I’m going to keep making the case here in Congress.  I think it’s a very important case to make.  Again, I have no objection to children working on family farms, as long as they get educated and they’re able to do it in their spare time.  But what I don’t want to see is children being forced to work on family farms and as a result, not being educated.  And so they grow up essentially with no educational skills whatsoever, which really changes things for their future.  And that’s not something we want to see.

“So I thank you all for coming.  I’m happy that we’re all working together.  I’m going to keep making the case here in Congress.  And I thank you again for your drive and your partnership.  Your partnership is very important.  Thank you.”