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. Nestle is one of the global corporations which sources cocoa beans from Cote d'Ivoire for its chocolate products.
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, including Nestle, made a voluntary commitment (the Harkin-Engel Protocol) to certify their cocoa “child labor-free” by
July 2005, but that deadline passed with little fanfare [click here to read a critique of the Protocol from 2006]. The deadline
was then extended to certify 50% of farms “child-labor free” by July
2008 [click here to read an analysis from 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 like Neslte 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.
In 2005, Nestle was sued by Malian former child slaves who worked on cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire supplying to Nestle in U.S. courts. More information on that ongoing lawsuit is available online here.