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Quigley Praises Chicago Students Who Inspired Anti-Child Labor Initiative

Jul 27, 2021
Press Release

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to call attention to child labor usage by the cocoa industry and to thank the Bell Elementary School students who brought this issue to his attention. In June, Quigley held a virtual meeting with students at Alexander Graham Bell School in Chicago, IL. During the visit, the students shared their serious concerns about the use of child labor in West Africa to produce some of their favorite candy products.

Quigley brought those concerns back to Congress and pressed for the inclusion of a provision in the FY22 appropriations bills that could help bring an end to child labor in the cocoa industry. That language was ultimately included in the FY22 Labor-Health and Human Services bill. Quigley’s provision directs the Department of Labor to produce a report on the ongoing use of child labor in the production of cocoa beans and to provide recommendations on how to reduce the practice.

A clip of Quigley’s remarks praising Bell Elementary students is HERE.

Video of Quigley’s full remarks on the floor is available HERE and a copy of his remarks as prepared for delivery is available below:

 

Madam Speaker,

I rise today to discuss the steps we must take to end child labor in the cocoa and chocolate industry. 

This issue was first brought to my attention by students at Bell Elementary in Chicago. Through the guidance of their teacher, Mr. Peter Barash, these students uncovered the disturbing relationship between child labor and chocolate production.

During my visit with their class, they shared with me their concern for children who are forced into child labor in the cocoa industry. Some of these children are sold to traffickers or farm owners or are abducted, only to be taken to cocoa farms for work. Some do not see their families again for years. Some, never again.

Most children in the cocoa industry begin their days before the sun rises and end it long after the sun sets. They’re forced to wield dangerous machetes while climbing up and down trees to cut down bean pods. Then they must carry the pods in sacks weighing more than 100 pounds through the forest. If children don’t work fast enough, the farm owners beat them.

When they’re finally able to rest, they must sleep on wooden planks in small windowless building with little to no access to clean water. Many of these children will never attend school or receive an education.

The passionate elementary schoolers who told me about this made the compelling case that we must eradicate child labor from the cocoa industry and make sure these children are no longer forced into dangerous, unlawful working conditions.

How can we justify all of this for the sake of chocolate?

I’m not the first member of this body to be concerned about these practices. This fight was first taken up in Congress by former Representative Eliot Engel of New York, who worked to establish a labeling standard to indicate on chocolate products that no child labor had been used in its production.

While this effort did not succeed, he was joined by former Senator Tom Harkin to establish what we call the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This protocol was an agreement between governments, chocolate companies, and cocoa producers to eliminate the worst forms of child labor within cocoa production.

While the protocol has been effective, this problem persists. In 2015, 14 years after the protocol’s signing, the Department of Labor reported that more than 2 million children were engaged in child labor in cocoa-growing regions of West Africa. And although the chocolate industry made a promise to end child labor almost 20 years ago, today, no company can guarantee their products are free of child labor.

While chocolate producers have shown some concern for the lives of these children, through dedicated funding to eradicate child labor in their industry, it has simply not been enough. The three largest chocolate suppliers in the world are not even able to identify the farms where their cocoa is being produced.

As Americans, we must recognize that much of the chocolate we enjoy is harvested and produced at the expense of young children.

We cannot let this continue.

Kids should be in schools.

Kids should be playing.

Kids should be with friends.

Kids should be kids.

After speaking with the children at Bell Elementary, I was proud to take a first step in the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill by including language to reinvigorate the Department of Labor’s role in the international Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group and to hold the companies and countries involved accountable for the promises they made almost 20 years ago under the Harkin-Engel Protocol. But there is still so much to do.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and Secretary Walsh to bring an end to child labor in the cocoa industry.

I also want to acknowledge the amazing twelve- and thirteen-year-olds who brought this to my attention and are fighting for children they don’t know, halfway across the world.

Standing with these students and working to further their mission is why I’m proud to be a member of this body—to ensure that students like these have their voices heard by Congress. I look forward to going back to home to Chicago and Bell Elementary students to tell them that Congress was listening.

Thank you and I yield back.

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