People around the world share a love of chocolate, one of the most delicious and pleasurable foods on earth. Thousands of children in West Africa are forced to labor in the production of cocoa, chocolate’s primary ingredient. The West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is the leading supplier of cocoa, accounting for more than 40% of global production. Low cocoa prices and thus the need for lower labor costs drive farmers to employ children as a means to survive. The US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor,” and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement.
These child workers labor for long, punishing hours, using dangerous tools and facing frequent exposure to dangerous pesticides as they travel great distances in the grueling heat. Those who labor as slaves must also suffer frequent beatings and other cruel treatment. Cote d’Ivoire’s child laborers are robbed not only of their freedom but of the right to a basic education. In a country where more than half the population is illiterate, basic education of “cocoa children” takes on an even more critical significance for Cote d’Ivoire’s future. Increased access to education must be a key component in any effective strategy to reduce poverty and exploitative child labor.
In 2001, in an attempt to avoid government regulation and intense media scrutiny, major cocoa companies made a voluntary commitment (the Cocoa Industry Protocol) to certify their cocoa “child labor-free” by July 2005, but that deadline passed with little fanfare. The deadline was then extended to certify 50% of farms “child-labor free” by July 2008. The cocoa companies trumpeted a few pilot programs, but continue to purchase and reap profits from child labor cocoa. The major cocoa importers need to use their vast influence on the cocoa market to bring about the kind of systemic changes necessary to eliminate child slavery once and for all.
The International Labor Rights Forum is committed to combating the scourge of forced child labor in the cocoa industry through public education and corporate campaigns.
Our campaign focuses on the Hershey Corporation. Here is our statement in response to their announcement to source 100% certified cocoa by 2020.
Child Labor Around the World
Young boy drying out cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast