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Action against Child Exploitation (ACE) ~For a World in Which All Children May Possess Dreams!  Working to Realize a Society Free of Child Labor! ~

ACE Managing Director Tomoko Shiraki (c) along with members of the Secretariat, they are pictured holding products that support ACE activities such as books and chocolates.  The Ghanaian flag is also shown.

ACE Managing Director Tomoko Shiraki (c) along with members of the Secretariat, they are pictured holding products that support ACE activities such as books and chocolates. The Ghanaian flag is also shown.

This month's Close Up introduces Action against Child Exploitation (ACE), a specified non-profit organization (NPO). Established in 1997 by students interested in child labor issues; ACE is an international cooperation Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works to protect children worldwide from child labor practices. In addition to ACE protecting children from the dangers of child labor via educational support activities in Ghana's cocoa-producing areas and India's cotton-producing regions, the organization also works to exert influence both on Japanese businesses and consumers so as to realize a society that doesn't contribute to the birth of child labor. On this occasion, we spoke to ACE Managing Director and founding member Tomoko Shiroki. While discussing the measures that the group undertakes to support children in the cocoa-producing areas of Ghana, we also talked to her about the background giving rise to child labor, and what we, as consumers, could do prior to purchasing St. Valentine's Day chocolates here in Japan.

Q.Please tell us what led to the establishment of ACE.

A walk to convey the issue of child labor in the soccer ball industry; it was undertaken as part of the world cup campaign.  ©ACE

A walk to convey the issue of child labor in the soccer ball industry; it was undertaken as part of the world cup campaign. ©ACE

A.ACE was established in December of 1997 as an NGO by five students. It was started because we wanted Japan to participate in the "Global March Against Child Labor." This was an event that was held in 1998 in some 107 countries around the world. Following this success, we conducted the "World Cup Campaign – Kick Child Labor Out of Soccer" in 2002 to coincide with the FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. This campaign was designed to convey the state of child labor in the soccer ball industry. It received extensive coverage in magazine and newspaper articles. As a result of feedback from their students who had read these articles, we even received requests to visit elementary schools. Back then, we didn't possess much know-how and we couldn't even write our own press releases. We realized, however, we could convey our ideas to a much bigger audience by disseminating messages that tied into concurrent specific interests in the wider world. Leveraging this experience, at ACE, which had by then become an NPO, we started to tackle the issue of child labor in chocolate and cotton production.

Q.Please tell us about the special features of ACE activities.

A.The philosophy that underpins our activities is "Playing, Learning, and Laughing; Providing Such Basics to the Children of the World." While protecting the rights of the child, we aim to provide all children with a world that is both safe for them and which allows them to possess their dreams. ACE particularly focuses upon children who are unable to attend school because they have to work. In other words, our focus is the issue of child labor. Concerning what distinguishes our activities, rather than simply trying to resolve such problems locally, we aim to convey the idea that child labor is a problem of direct relevance to people living in Japan because it is influenced by our consumer and business behavior. Thus, we aim to get consumers and businesses involved in activities that seek to resolve the issue of child labor. By linking everybody together, from producers through to consumers, we hope to realize a society whose fundamentals don't give birth to the phenomenon of child labor.

Q.Is all work undertaken by children referred to as "child labor"?

Ms. Shiroki believes that people must start with a correct understanding of what constitutes "child labor."

Ms. Shiroki believes that people must start with a correct understanding of what constitutes "child labor."

A."Child labor" is dangerous and harmful work undertaken by children which prevents their education and healthy development. It is also a practice banned by international treaty. Work done by children in helping within a stable home while attending a recognized school, or legally recognized part-time work undertaken after completion of compulsory education, does not constitute child labor. All work engaged in by children is not child labor; rather it is that labor undertaken by children which occurs in an illegal context. Indeed, if a deeper understanding of the definition of "child labor" is not realized, even if calls are made for its elimination, there exists the danger of a significant psychological backlash. Thus, when working both locally and within Japan, we start by explaining what constitutes "child labor."

 

Q.What gives birth to a child labor?

A.One factor pushing children into child labor is inevitability resulting from household poverty, while another is industry's need for a cheap labor; such being a manifestation of supply and demand. Consumers want cheap products, and if businesses seek to cut costs to meet such demand, there are locally-based producers willing to undertake such work. It then becomes a case of local households being unsustainable if only adults work, and there is no other choice than for children to work as well. If such structures are not changed, then even if activities are undertaken locally to save children, then the net result is only that any new children take their place in being sent to work. Thus, concurrent to the projects that we undertake in Ghana and India, we are also adopting an approach of trying to change both consumer and business behavior here in Japan.

Q.Please tell us about your "Smile-Ghana Project" being conducted in that country.

A "Smile-Ghana Project" billboard in Kwabena Akwah Village, Asanti Region.  This project started in the village in February of 2009. © ACE

A "Smile-Ghana Project" billboard in Kwabena Akwah Village, Asanti Region. This project started in the village in February of 2009.
© ACE

A.The project has run since 2009. It is being carried out through a partnership with a local NGO in the Ashanti Region, which is Ghana's second largest cocoa-producing area. The project aims to protect children from dangerous labor while allowing them to receive an education. We are also supporting the cocoa farmers so that they can achieve economic independence. On visiting villages in the region, you often hear of households where children are not being sent to school because school supplies are unaffordable. Thus, we start by supplying these households with sets of school supplies so that children can attend school.

The Farmer Business School is a training program where farmers learn the basics required to be a cocoa producer, everything from pruning trees through to protecting against disease and pests. © ACE

The Farmer Business School is a training program where farmers learn the basics required to be a cocoa producer, everything from pruning trees through to protecting against disease and pests.
© ACE

Concurrent to these activities, farming instruction given to cocoa farmers raises production volumes, and the resulting income increases are allocated to children's education. Furthermore, by not employing child labor but rather organizing mutual assistance systems among adults, we are improving both the school environment and the local region while having both adults and children express their opinions. The timespan for the project in each region is set at three years, and local residents will assume responsibility for those cooperative systems established between each region and government, schools and parents, and among local residents, etc.

 

Q.Is it difficult to change the consciousness of adults?

A.This is something that doesn't merely apply to local villages in Ghana; rather it is also the case that in Japan many people believe "the world wouldn't function without child labor." Indeed, the collective mindset of those who feel "it cannot be eliminated" represent the largest barrier preventing the elimination of child labor. Based on an assumption that child labor will not be engaged in, while important that people give consideration to household finances and societal structures in those regions where child labor exists, isn't it also the case that consideration needs to be given to the relationship between child labor and both consumer behavior and business practices in advanced countries, such phenomena clearly contributing to the structures that give birth to child labor?

Q.And your cooperation with Japanese businesses is also moving forward.

A.The first detailed tie-up we had was the "1 chocolate for 1 smile" campaign with MORINAGA & CO., LTD. A donation was established with regard to the sale of DARS brand chocolate and other applicable products, etc., this donation then being used to support the "Ghana-Smile Campaign" (January to February 14th of this year has been established as a special month during which a one yen donation will be made for each box of chocolate sold). Furthermore, placing on the back of product packaging the phrase; "Let's hope that the children of cocoa-producing countries can receive a solid education," represents a major development for a chocolate manufacturer. Considering our activities at elementary schools, etc., we have received feedback from students such as; "There isn't much that an elementary student can do, however, if my eating chocolate supports other children, I will continue to buy DARS chocolate," and "I would like MORINAGA to keep this program going." For a limited time, moreover, MORINAGA will be selling chocolate that contains cocoa sourced from the region of Ghana we support. I would like to convey the hopes of everybody who supports us in wishing that such activities continue indefinitely.

A picture of Ghanaian children holding boxes of Morinaga "1 chocolate for 1 smile" DARS chocolate. Roughly 80% of the cocoa beans imported into Japan come from Ghana. In a 2011 research report by Tulane University of the United States, it was estimated that more than 1 million children worked in Cocoa production.
© ACE

A picture of Ghanaian children holding boxes of Morinaga "1 chocolate for 1 smile" DARS chocolate.  Roughly 80% of the cocoa beans imported into Japan come from Ghana.  In a 2011 research report by Tulane University of the United States, it was estimated that more than 1 million children worked in Cocoa production. © ACE

Q.If people know about child labor, what can they do if they want to teach others about it?

A.There is a picture book published called "That Child." It combines a poem written on the theme of child labor by the poet and ACE monthly supporter Shuntaro Tanikawa, with illustrations by Yasushi Tsukamoto. In that it combines together a questioning poem with colorful illustrations, it is a wonderful book that would make a great gift. This book has also been animated and uploaded to YouTube, and I am happy to report that knowledge of it continues to spread via social networks, etc.

© ACE

© ACE

Furthermore, there is a film called "St. Valentine Revolt," which was made to celebrate the 15th anniversary of ACE's establishment. It is a documentary that records three average Japanese girls who travel to Ghana and learn the truth about child labor. After returning to Japan, they act to initiate the "buying of Fair Trade chocolate for St. Valentine's Day." The movie was shown in Japan from January to August in 2013, it being seen by approximately 5,000 people at 100 locations in some 32 prefectures. More than being a movie about child labor, it is a record of the fight put up by these women. While identifying and seeing themselves in the girls who appeared in the film, I got the impression that people ended up with a similar mindset to the girls, in that they felt a desire to do something to address the state of affairs that was portrayed. It is also possible to arrange for the independent screening of this movie. In that there is a limit to how far ACE messages can be spread just by us, I believe it would be good if people who receive our messages are then able to initiate actions on their own.
・The Official "St. Valentine Revolt" Website
Please find details regarding movie schedules, etc.
http://valentinei.net/ (in Japanese only)

The documentary movie made to celebrate the 15th anniversary of ACE’s establishment. © ACE

The documentary movie made to celebrate the 15th anniversary of ACE's establishment.
© ACE

Q.St. Valentine's Day is fast approaching. Do you have a message for those people who might be sending chocolates to others?

A.Here at ACE, in terms of chocolates that support our activities in Ghana, we sell "Happiness-Bringing Ladybird Chocolates" that may be given as a gift. In much the same way as when we eat chocolate we feel happy, within our Ladybird chocolates there is contained our hope that Ghanaian children will also be happy. What about giving such chocolates to somebody as a St. Valentine's gift? In that these chocolates are wrapped and shipped from a job assistance facility for the disabled in Rikuzentakata Town in Iwate Prefecture, they also support recovery efforts associated with the Great East Japan Earthquake.

*For more information regarding ACE's chocolate activities and the purchase of its "Happiness-Bringing Ladybird Chocolates," please refer to the following website.
http://acejapan.org/choco/ (in Japanese only)

Four and two-piece "Happiness-Bringing Ladybird Chocolates," in Europe there is the oral tradition that says, "people who the ladybird lands on in spring will experience happiness.

Four and two-piece "Happiness-Bringing Ladybird Chocolates," in Europe there is the oral tradition that says, "people who the ladybird lands on in spring will experience happiness.

Employees at the "Asunaro Home" job assistance facility in Rikuzentakata Town packing chocolates.  These ladybird chocolates bring happiness to both Ghanaian children and the residents of Rikuzentakata. © ACE

Employees at the "Asunaro Home" job assistance facility in Rikuzentakata Town packing chocolates. These ladybird chocolates bring happiness to both Ghanaian children and the residents of Rikuzentakata.
© ACE

Q.And finally, if you would like to give a message to our readers...

A.Once aware of the child labor that lies behind chocolate and cotton production, some people may feel they should not buy such products. However, rather than a boycott, what about a "buycott"? In other words, what about buying products such as fair trade products that are known to not be involved in child labor, or products such as DARS chocolate through which you can support Ghanaian children. If fair trade products are not available in stores, it is very important ask store staff; "why aren't such products stocked"? When faced with such a big issue, some people might feel their own personal actions can have little effect, however, there can be no doubt that the little individual actions of each and every one of us when combined can have a big impact on the world. Even the smallest action is better than no action at all; I would like it if each individual action undertaken by everybody could be built upon.

*In answering the call "to buy fair trade chocolates that truly contain love," during the period from January 14th to February 28th," ACE will be implementing a "St. Valentine Revolt" with students nationwide. We would really like readers to participate in this activity!
http://acejapan.org/valentine/ (in Japanese only)