During the week of January 23rd, representatives from the Governments of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire met with officials of the US Department of Labor, the congressional offices of Tom Harkin and Eliot Engel as well as the global cocoa industry for a series of meetings aimed at identifying more innovative and collaborative ways to address the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sectors of both countries, the two largest cocoa producing nations.
I, together with Brad Figel, Alastair Child, Andrew Pederson and Shayna Harris of Mars participated in several meetings during the week. Of greatest interest to Mars were the meetings directly related to our Vision for Change (V4C) program – Mars’ innovative approach to increasing farmer incomes and assisting communities to improve their living standards and address the issue of children working instead of attending school.
On January 25th, the Mars team met with the Ivorian Minister of Labor, Mr. Koné Kafana, who heads the Ivorian Government Interministerial Committee charged with carrying out the National Plan to address the worst forms of child labor in the country. The Minister agreed to work with Mars in the V4C Program area and jointly design interventions that will further assist parents and communities to stop and / or prevent children from working in dangerous situations. Following this session, the Mars team presented more detail on the V4C program to the full contingent of delegates, known as the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG).
It was gratifying to see the reaction of the representatives who participated in the CLCCG meeting when the Mars V4C program was explained. Over the course of more than 2 hours we presented details of the holistic approach that Mars is pioneering in the Soubré region of Cote d’Ivoire. One of our major themes was partnership. We stressed our willingness to partner more effectively with the Ivorian Inter-ministerial Committee and to work together to design community interventions. Our presentation was positively received by all the delegates, and there is a great desire to learn more and to understand our results as the work moves forward.
As I look forward to progress from the V4C program in 2012, one of the key outcomes we will look for is interventions in V4C communities that are co-designed by the Ivorian Government, Mars and other stakeholders and result in measurable improvements for children and their families in those communities.