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Doug Krizner: Get set you love birds: To mark Valentine's Day this year, you'll shell out more than 17 billion on cards, flowers -- and of course, the chocolate. More than half the chocolate -- or rather, the cocoa used to make that chocolate -- comes from West Africa. It's a region where child labor -- and even child trafficking and slavery -- is well documented.
Today, activists are sending bouquets to the CEOs of major chocolate companies with a call for more transparency in cocoa supply chains. But as Gretchen Wilson reports, the industry says it's following its own process to improve conditions.
Gretchen Wilson: Activists say child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana gives most chocolate on the shelves a bitter taste.
Tim Newman is with the International Labor Rights Forum. He says these kids are doing dangerous work.
Tim Newman: Which means that they're handling machetes to cut cocoa pods from trees, and to cut those pods open. They're also involved with handling pesticides that are used in production.
Most West African cocoa goes to multinational firms, such as Nestle, Mars and Hershey's.
Susan Smith is with the National Confectioners Association, a trade group for cocoa processors and chocolate makers:
Susan Smith: Most cocoa farmers grow cocoa responsibly. But there are issues.
Smith says the industry supports programs that teach farmers about safe and fair labor practices. She also says it's important to understand the local cultural context.
Smith: These are farm families, and children traditionally help their families.
U.S. lawmakers aren't satisfied. They've set a July deadline for the chocolate industry to make sure half the cocoa-producing areas in the Ivory Coast and Ghana are free of child labor. Right now, the industry is working with local governments to survey farm conditions.
But Smith says monitoring the entire supply chain of cocoa beans isn't realistic.
Smith: At this point, it is not possible across 2 million small cocoa farmers.
But a few individual companies, such as Cargill and Kraft, have agreed to additional certification programs that reach the farm level. Some boutique chocolate makers do track their cocoa supply.
La Siembra Cooperative can trace the cocoa in this Cocoa Camino chocolate bar to individual farms in the Dominican Republic and Peru. Kevin Thomson is former executive director:
Kevin Thomson: Supply chain is Business 101.
Sales of the company's certified fair-trade products have climbed more than 50 percent year-on-year.
Thomson: We attributed that to consumers and their awareness of fair-trade issues and actually voting with their dollar at the till, advocating for change.
He says knowing it's child-labor free makes it all the sweeter.
I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.