What is modern slavery?
There is no international consensus about modern slavery. One calls it slavery, the other forced labor or slave-like work. Many organizations count the worst kinds of child labor as defined by the International Labor Organization, and some only include human trafficking in their definition. But one thing everyone agrees upon is the existence of exploitation or forced labor. We consider all forms of forced labor or exploitation to be modern slavery, including the (unconditional) worst forms of child labor.
No matter which exact words we use to describe these abuses or how they’re defined; they’re unacceptable, illegal and must stop. As long as one single child is doing dangerous work or one adult is being exploited we will continue to fight against the inequalities in the cocoa industry.
How big is the problem?
It’s difficult to make an accurate calculation of the number of people working in the cocoa industry in West Africa. Farmers aren’t required to register and many people are not even registered when they’re born and have no birth certificate. But thanks to investigation by, among others, Tulane University and the US government we have good estimates: In Ghana and Ivory Coast, there are about 2.5 million farms in the cocoa sector. 2.3 million children work on these farms (Tulane report 2015), often on their own family’s farm. Of the children working on cocoa farms 90% work under illegal conditions. That’s more than two million children; more than ever before. And although there was a slight improvement in Ghana in recent years, this is largely offset by increasing illegal child labor in Ivory Coast.
And it’s not only children. Adults are also victims of labor abuses. In recent years there have been no new reliable studies on human trafficking and slavery in the cocoa industry. But based on general studies and observations of slavery in Ghana and Ivory Coast we estimate that there are around 90,000 victims of human trafficking, forced labor and extreme exploitation. That would be 1600 city buses full of slaves for our chocolate! The vast majority of which are children.
The fact is that not all children work illegally. A child working safely on his parents’ farm before or after school is not an issue (e.g. gathering cocoa pods from the ground). In fact, he or she helps the family while learning the ins and outs of the family farm. But it becomes a problem when a child is doing hazardous work or can’t go to school because of work. Often children have to carry heavy loads, use dangerous tools (like large machetes) and are exposed to chemical pesticides. They do work which prevents them from going to school or work for which they are just too young. Most children don’t work full time but a few hours per week, or only during the main harvest period.
The fact that there is so much illegal child labor in the year 2015 is shameful. More than 90% of all West African children who work on cocoa plantations work under illegal and dangerous conditions. We’re talking about more than 2 million children. For our chocolate! Let that sink in..