Chocolate manufacturers, human rights groups and the Ivory Coast Government have signed pact aimed at ending the abuse of child labour in the chocolate industry.
The agreement aims to address the use of children in West Africa's cocoa fields, and measures designed to crack down on mistreatment are set to be in place before the harvest season in autumn.
In the future, the group will also advise a new foundation on how to eliminate the practice which sees children working in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast and Ghana for little or no wages.
Media attention about the practice has presented a potential public relations nightmare for the chocolate industry.
Chocolate manufacturers were blamed for helping to create market conditions which encourage child slavery and poverty in the African cocoa industry.
Cleaning Up Chocolate
1 October 2001: Probe of West African labour practices begins
1 December 2001: Plan to eliminate child slave labour outlined
1 May 2002: Pact to end child slave labour is signed
1 July 2002: Foundation to reunite children with their families to be set up
1 July 2005: Standards to be established to identify cocoa grown without child slave labour
Critics say by keeping prices low and farmers in poverty, the multinationals drove some of them into using forced labour.
"This Memorandum of Co-operation shows that the industry is moving forward on several fronts to deal with abusive labour practices," said Susan Smith, spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA).
The CMA and World Cocoa Foundation first proposed the binding memorandum in September last year, following pressure from moves last year to introduce a chocolate product labelling bill in the US Congress.
The Ivorian Government and cocoa operators have all along maintained that reports of slavery have been exaggerated and are unrepresentative of most cocoa plantations.
They have said that the buying chain for cocoa was so complex that it was impossible to guarantee the working practices on every farm.
At least 15,000 children from Mali are thought to be in the neighbouring Ivory Coast, producing cocoa for almost half of the world's chocolate.
The slave children are taken from poor areas of Mali. Many are the sons and daughters of street sellers, or slum children whose parents sell them for just a few dollars.
An independent study of cocoa, cashew and coffee farming is now being completed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with collaborators in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria.
Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria rank as the world's first, second, and fourth largest cocoa producers.
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