Western African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. The cocoa they grow and harvest is sold to a majority of chocolate companies, including the largest in the world (Hershey, Mars, Nestle, ADM Cocoa, Godiva, Fowlers chocolate, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Cargill, Barry Callebout, and M&M Mars, Kraft:(including Cadbury, Nabisco, Toblerone), General Mills (including Häagen Dazs), Lindt and Sprungli (including Ghirardelli), Unilever (including Breyer’s Ice Cream))
A handful of organizations and Journalists have reported 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.
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.
Childs workday starts at 6am and ends in the evening.
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.”
Some kids use chainsaws to clear the forests and other climbs the trees and cut down the pods with machetes.
Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes.
In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing.
The farm owners using child labor usually provide the children with the cheapest food available, such as corn paste and bananas. In some cases, the children sleep on wooden planks in small windowless buildings with no access to clean water or sanitary bathrooms.
On cocoa farms, 10% of child laborers in Ghana and 40% in the Ivory Coast do not attend school.
Investigators have discovered children trafficked into Western African cocoa farms and coerced to work without pay. Cases often involve acts of physical violence, such as being whipped for working slowly or trying to escape. Reporters have also documented cases where children and adults were locked in at night to prevent them from escaping. Former cocoa slave Aly Diabate told reporters, “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.” Drissa, a recently freed slave who had never even tasted chocolate, experienced similar circumstances. When asked what he would tell people who eat chocolate made from slave labor, he replied that they enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding, “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”
(Chocolate companies that don't use child labor: Clif Bar, Green and Black’s, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Denman Island Chocolate, Gardners Candie, Montezuma’s Chocolates, Newman’s Own Organics, Kailua Candy Company, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics, The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, Cloud nine, Guittard Chocolate Company, See’s Candies and Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut), Equal exchange, sweet earth, endangered species chocolate, yummy earth Organics, sjaaks, theo chocolate, Taza, sun spire, shaman, new mans own organics, divine, camino, madecasse, askinosie, altereco)