PHILADELPHIA -- Candy maker Hershey is vowing to use only certified cocoa for all of its chocolate products by 2020 and accelerate programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa-producing regions of West Africa.

The company has come under fire from activists who said it was the only major chocolate producer in the world that hadn't made a commitment to use certified cocoa.

The central Pennsylvania company said Wednesday its plan to use certified cocoa – which is produced according to certain social, economic and environmental standards – should "significantly expand" the global supply of such cocoa, especially from West Africa, which produces about 70 percent of the world's cocoa. Currently, certified cocoa accounts for less than 5 percent of the world's cocoa supply, Hershey said.

The company also vowed to continue its support of community development programs, such as village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, training in modern farming techniques and literacy and health programs.

"Consistent with Hershey's values, we are directly addressing the economic and social issues that impact West Africa's two million cocoa farmers and families," J.P. Bilbrey, company president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "I am confident that we can make a substantial difference in West Africa by 2020."

The company said independent auditors will verify the certified cocoa was produced by the highest labor, environmental and farming practices.

"Fair trade" campaigns have led to agreements by chocolate makers to help clean up the cocoa supply chain, but activists and researchers say little has changed in the decade since the U.S. Congress passed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to introduce a "no child slavery" label for chocolate marketed in the United States.

Some 1.8 million children, ages 5 to 17, work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to the fourth annual report produced by Tulane University under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor to monitor progress in the protocol. The report says 40 percent of the 820,000 children working in cocoa in Ivory Coast are not enrolled in school, and only about 5 percent of the Ivorian children are paid for their work.

Hershey said previously that it was working to improve lives in local communities, and the company this year said it would invest $10 million in West Africa to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply, mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

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