In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public. In 2004, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage allegedly kidnapped and killed a journalist reporting on government corruption in its profitable cocoa industry. In 2010, Ivorian government authorities detained three newspaper journalists after they published an article exposing government corruption in the cocoa sector. The farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé—revealing the industry’s direct connection to the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery.
The Worst Forms of Child Labor
In Western Africa, cocoa is a commodity crop grown primarily for export; 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive. The children of Western Africa are surrounded by intense poverty, and most begin working at a young age to help support their families. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives, who are unaware of the dangerous work environment and the lack of any provisions for an education. Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, two of the poorest countries in the world. Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever. Most of the children laboring on cocoa farms are between the ages of 12 and 16, but reporters have found children as young as 5. In addition, 40% of these children are girls, and some stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood. A child’s workday typically begins at six in the morning and ends in the evening. Some of the children use chainsaws to clear the forests. Other children climb the cocoa tree to cut bean pods using a machete. These large, heavy, dangerous knives are the standard tools for children on the cocoa farms, which violates international labor laws and a UN convention on eliminating the worst forms of child labor. Once they cut the bean pods from the trees, the children pack the pods into sacks that weigh more than 100 pounds when full and drag them through the forest. Aly Diabate, a former cocoa slave, said, “Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.” Holding a single large pod in