February 11, 2010
AFT President Calls on Agriculture Secretary
To Move Against Using Child Labor To Produce Cocoa
As Valentine’s Day Approaches, Vilsack Is Urged To Bar Chocolates
That Exploit Children
WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has called on the nation’s top agriculture official to take new steps to close the U.S. market to chocolate made with cocoa that is produced with child labor.
In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the AFT president said “urgent action is needed if we are to realize the International Labor Organization goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labor by 2016.” Weingarten also praised Vilsack for appointing members to a consultative group whose mission is to recommend actions to the Secretary of Agriculture aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of child labor in agricultural products imported into the United States.
Weingarten’s letter is part of a Valentine’s Day campaign by the AFT to highlight the fact that cocoa harvested by children is used in chocolate candy given as gifts on the holiday.
More than half of the world’s supply of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is cultivated in the two West African nations of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Growing and harvesting their cocoa crops depends on the labor of more than 3.6 million children. Children must climb trees with machetes to cut down cocoa pods; they handle and apply dangerous pesticides, burn brush and carry backbreaking loads.
“We ask that you declare on Feb. 14 that, next Valentine’s Day, you will have a plan to assure the American people that the chocolate marketed in the U.S. has not been produced with cocoa harvested by children,” Weingarten urged Vilsack. Cocoa beans from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire already are on the Labor Department’s list of goods produced by child labor.
As part of its Valentine’s Day of Action, the AFT is inviting people to visit the AFT Web site at www.aft.org and click on the link there to send a valentine to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urging him to ensure that the candy Americans share with loved ones on future Valentine’s Days is not spoiled by the bitterness of child labor.
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The AFT represents more than 1.4 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.