While cocoa is sourced from several regions around the world, West Africa is the largest producer, making up 70% of the world’s cocoa. The West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire alone grows 40% of the global supply of cocoa, with Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria being the other major producers in the region. With more than 1.5 million small family farms across this region, millions communities depend on cocoa for their livelihood.
Unfortunately, cocoa has not proved to be lucrative for most of the cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire.
Cocoa farmers typically live in poverty, and, as a result, instances of forced labor, human trafficking and the worst forms of child labor are found too often on cocoa farms in West Africa.
Forced and Abusive Child Labor
Over a decade ago, initial reports from this region described how children worked for long hours on cocoa farms performing hazardous work like using machetes, carrying heavy loads, and coming into close contact with toxic pesticides.
The Payson Center at Tulane University, in its 2009 Assessment of Child Labor in the Cocoa Supply Chain in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, found that children are frequently involved in weeding, plucking cocoa pods, gathering and heaping cocoa pods, and other cocoa growing activities. They also reported that 15 percent of children surveyed reported forced or involuntary work in the past twelve months. In addition, they found that nearly 50 percent of children working in cocoa farming in Cote d’Ivoire and over 50 percent in Ghana reported injuries from their work in the past year.
In 2009, INTERPOL and Cote d’Ivoire police conducted raids on several cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire. These raids identified scores of children who had been smuggled into Cote d’Ivoire from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso and were forced to work on cocoa farms.
In 2005, children who had been trafficked from Mali to Cote d’Ivoire to work on cocoa farms filed a lawsuit in US courts against cocoa traders Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Nestlé that is still ongoing. As the predominant companies trading cocoa globally, Hershey purchases its cocoa from these companies. The children described being forced to work for long hours without pay and being kept by force on cocoa plantations.
One of the major factors underlying violations of labor rights on cocoa farms is the low price paid to farmers for their beans. Without receiving a fair price for their product, cocoa farmers do not have the means to hire adult workers whose rights are adequately respected, and who are in turn paid fair wages.