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Child trafficking in cocoa industry in West Africa

The chocolate industry is worth an estimated $110 billion a year, and yet the cocoa, which is the key ingredient in the confectionery, is grown by some of the poorest people on the planet, in plantations that use some of the worst forms of child labour, including trafficking.

This practice is prevalent in West Africa, especially in the Côte d’Ivoire, which is the main world producer of cocoa beans and provides about 40% of the world total cocoa beans production.

The US Department of State estimates that more than 100,000 children in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry work under ‘the worst forms of child labour,’ and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement.

Significant numbers of young people from Mali and Burkina Faso work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. They came from extremely poor families and have been recruited by traffickers on the promise of good wages and assistance for travel.

Many are forced to live in poor conditions where no one looks after them and they are forced to forage for food.

Some children are held on the farms against their will, and those that attempt to leave are beaten. It is not uncommon for pay to be withheld for an entire year and when the children complain or try to leave, the farmers inform them that they had not yet worked enough. Those that do manage to get paid after two to three years of work received much less than expected with some receiving little more than the cost of a bus ticket home, or nothing at all.

The global cocoa industry has known about this issue for many years and in 2001 made a commitment to eradicate it. However, labour exploitation still occurs in the cocoa industry today.

Cocoa is also present in many of the products we use on a daily basis, such as cocoa butter in cosmetics, soaps and pharmaceutical products.

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Boys carrying cocoaSome children in west Africa are still being trafficked into cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.
©Nile Sprague /