The global chocolate market is worth an estimated $110 billion a year. The cocoa bean grown in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire produces 70% of the world’s cocoa, the farms of these Western African countries supply cocoa to international corporations such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. Over the past decade, the cocoa industry in Western Africa has been condemned for harbouring forced child labour. A recent report from The US Department of State estimates that there are more than 100,000 in the Cote d’Ivoire region working under various forms of child labour and 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. The Cote D’Ivoire government has ruthlessly suppressed these claims of child labour with many government officials allegedly kidnapping and detaining journalists who have exposed forced child labour in the cocoa industry.
Forced child labour has led to a huge reduction of children attending school with fewer than 60 per cent of young boys and 50 per cent of girls in Cote d’Ivoire, obtaining some form of education. Without a comprehensive education, the children working on these cocoa farms have little hope of ever breaking free from this entrenched cycle of poverty. The young children are forced to work for these cocoa farms under poor conditions for diminutive pay, providing small but necessary financial support towards their families.
The forced labour raises health risks to children workers. Many work long hours with machetes and chainsaws. In addition to the use of machetes, children are exposed to extremely hazardous equipment such as toxic agricultural chemicals without wearing protective clothing. Physical and sexual violence to children disobeying orders and to those who fail to complete a certain quota is also very prevalent on the farms. Is there an end to forced child labour in the production of chocolate? Whilst a multilateral solution is needed, there appears to be little transparency from relevant international organisations in their combat against child labour. Can fairtrade aid in eradicating forced child labour? Despite various fairtrade certifications, none can guarantee that the chocolate was made without the use of exploitive child labour. Investigative journalists have discovered that certain chocolate companies abuse the fairtrade ‘label’ continue to falsify and market their unethically produced cocoa.
The 2nd December marks the United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. This day focuses on raising awareness on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as human trafficking, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are some 5.5 million children in slavery or practices similar to slavery. The road towards eradicating this pernicious practice is very long. This is a truly alarming figure for a practise that inevitably leads to permanent physical and psychological harm, isolates children from families and communities and denies educational access, and finally reinforces the cycle of poverty and illiteracy within society.
It is time for a comprehensive approach directed towards dismantling these international companies have with regards to forced child labour. Action needs to be in the form of accountability and integrity to challenge the lack of transparency these companies show towards stopping forced child labour in Cote d’Ivoire. Campaigning to increase the presence of this disturbing issue into mainstream media channels can create a positive platform for impactful action to start. We live in a world where greed and extreme forms of capitalism have overridden any form of fairness and compassion. The cocoa industry is a perfect example of extreme form of capitalisms where international chocolate corporations have acted as selfish amoral agents. We have the power to stop this.