The dark side of chocolate

by Joe Crowley

worst forms of child labour

The children of West Africa are surrounded by intense poverty and most begin working at a young age to help support their family. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and they are told the pay is good. Other children are “sold” by their own relatives to traffickers or to the farm owners, and it has also been documented that traffickers often abduct the young boys from small villages in neighboring African countries.


Percentage of slaves in the cocoa industry.

About 12,000 children work in the cocoa factories. Most attention of this subject was focused on west Africa which collectively supplies 69 percent of the worlds cocoa.


hows its done

A child’s workday begins at sunrise and ends in the evening. The children climb the cocoa trees and cut the bean pods using a machete. Once the bean pods have been cut from the trees, the children pack the pods into large sacks and carry or drag them through the forest. “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.- Aly Diabate, former cocoa slave.


Holding a single large pod in one hand, the children strike the pod with the machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade, exposing the cocoa beans. Each strike of the machete has the potential to severely cut a child’s fingers or hand. Virtually every child has scars on the hands, arms, legs or shoulders from accidents with the machete.



Ages

Most of the children are between the ages of 12-16, but children as young as 7 have been filmed working on the farms. Some only stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood.


Living conditions

The farm owners often provide the children with the most inexpensive 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. Again, they may live in these conditions for months or even years.


Education

Most of the children are unable to attend school while they are working, which is a violation of the International Labor Organization child labor standards. Depriving these children of an education has many short-term and long-term effects on their lives. The children of the cocoa farms have little hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty.