With 44% coming from Ivory Coast, 15% from Ghana, 7% from Nigeria and 4% from Cameroon, West Africa produces 70% of world’s cocoa consumption. However, the majority of this cocoa is being produced with the use of child labour. According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention 138, “child labour is any economic activity performed by a person under 15 years of age”. The truth is that in Ivory Coast, children as young as seven are forced to work in cocoa farms often with family but not exclusively so as many of them have been essentially sold into slavery. Most of these children have never seen the four walls of a classroom! While a number of them work with their parents prompted by economic exigencies, many work because they must. They have been bought for as low as $5. In either case, this is unacceptable, an affront on humanity and a disgrace to multinational companies that make use of this raw material. No country can grow with a population that is largely illiterate. Education is, no doubt, a vital tool to unlock the doors of development, and it helps to inform, inspire and challenge.
A 2002 report by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), an Agricultural research think tank based in Nigeria, put the number of children working in dangerous conditions in the West African sub-regional cocoa farms at 284,000, with 200,000 of them in Ivory Coast. This is of grave concern, and admittedly the underlying issue is poverty and the unwillingness of the governments to take reasonable steps in partnership with these multinational companies to address this growing concern of farmers not earning what their product is worth. Because most farmers are totally dependent on the cocoa produce for daily survival, the pittance they earn is not enough to send their children to school. Thus they resort to using them in the farms as helpers, and to ensure that they also learn the farming skills that have helped many generations of their families survive. But this is mere survival and not “living” as these children have little or no chances in life beyond the corners of the cocoa farms. The cocoa industry has also capitalised on the dependency of these farmers on the income from cocoa in perpetuating and sustaining their recalcitrant behaviour and non-chalant attitude.
Most regrettably, these children work in the most inhospitable of conditions. As young as they are, they are dressed in mere rags, handed machetes and compelled to work under rain or sun often on empty stomach. Education and the need for it is not an option because one has to have money to pay for school. For these children, their childhood is sacrificed for food on the table, a rag to cover the ailing body and a roof over their head. These children toil and labour under intense heat and inhospitable climate, producing a material that continues to enrich companies such as Cadbury, Schweppes, Mars and Nestle to the detriment of their future. These children toil under deplorable conditions to produce a material used to produce chocolate that is often enjoyed by other children in western nations likely in an air-conditioned and luxurious environment. Because injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, global effort is needed more than ever to address the long hours, physical and sexual assault, deprivation of liberty, lack of education and basic healthcare and other forms of exploitation that these children endure.
Both child trafficking and child labour contravene international laws. There is growing evidence in the Ivory Coast particularly that children have been smuggled in from Mali, Ghana, Benin, etc and sold into slavery. It is the responsibility of these governments to protect children from abusive labour and a duty to give them education, a foundation upon which their future largely depends. Every child deserves a right to education, a right to achieve his or her greatest human potentials.
In 2001, when threatened with legislation in the US congress that would have mandated all chocolates to have an inscription that denounces use of child labour in West African cocoa farms, the chocolate manufacturers promised to take steps to stop child labour in the poverty ravaged cocoa-producing nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana. Six years after, the trend of child labour and exploitation is well and thrives in these countries. Nothing meaningful has been done, showing a lack of commitment on the side of the manufacturers, and the lack of willingness for the leaders of these countries to confront this challenge. This is a dangerously growing concern as children as young as seven are forced to work in these farms while their families are immersed in poverty more than ever.
The chocolate firms signed a voluntary industry initiative called Harkin-Engel protocol in 2001 with the aim of stamping out the use of child labourers in Ivory Coast and Ghana. The deadline is 2008 and fast approaching, yet nothing meaningful has been done on the part of the chocolate firms. As the deadline looms, US congress is set to put in place a legislative control mechanism that will no doubt compel the chocolate companies to be actively involved in addressing the use of child labour in cocoa farms. There is also no doubt that chocolate firms will feel the pinch of this policy in their corporate pocketbook, making it economically imperative for them to act now.
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I was born in Nigeria and was educated in Nigeria, USA and Australia. I am the founder and president of Christina-Mae Recruitment Consortium Australia and the author of the book "When Things Go Wrong: Concepts of Change". I am also the co-founder of Child Aid Survival and Development International (CASDI). As a freelance journalist, I have contributed to a number of professional journals and newspapers, as well as worked in a number of e-journalism projects. I have traveled extensively and currently call Australia and the USA home with extensive involvement in African Human Rights issues.
| Jul 13th, 2007
This is a very revealing article/study I hope some NGOs. out there see it.
HOPE, HOPE, & ONLY HOPE !!! Ibrahim K. Oyekanmi
| Aug 25th, 2007
I only hope the US congress will put in place a legislative control mechanism that will compel the chocolate companies to be actively involved in addressing the use of child labour in cocoa farms.
If that is done and the individual governments rise up to their duties of providing social amenitie like schools and hospitals, then we are likely to see compliance
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