Today I came across a report of an Interpol operation in 2009 that freed fifty child slaves in Ivory Coast. This may seem like a token gesture but it provides hard evidence of how organised and extensive the problem is in West Africa. Interpol states “the operation resulted in the rescue of 54 children of 7 different nationalities, clearly demonstrating the extent of transnational child trafficking in the region… With Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire producing around three quarters of the world’s cocoa, it is believed that hundreds of thousands of children are working illegally in the plantations across these two countries alone“.
Ivory Coast has suffered decades of civil war. As I write, it’s spiraling into renewed conflict. France has ordered its citizens to leave Côted’Ivoire and Reuters Africa reports flows of refugees and mercenaries across the Liberian border. Simmering ethnic and political rivalries have been made worse by a disputed presidential election in 2010. Ivory Coast is about the same size as Poland and less than half the size of Turkey. Click on Reuters Africa for daily news and info about the country.
What amazes me is that despite it’s problems, this West African basket-case still manages to export more cocoa than many of the other producers put together. Somehow, the reps for international corporations can still get into Ivory Coast, do business and buy up the cocoa harvest. Somehow, we still get our chocolate but what about the kids?
Then I read that a third of sub-saharan African children work. They are ‘child labourers’, along with millions more in Asia and the Americas. Some people want to stop it all together, others say that poor families have no choice. These kids have to work to help their families’ keep their heads above water. However, as we know, there’s reliable evidence from Interpol and others that hundreds of thousands of kids are further exploited – stripped of their basic human rights – and forced into appalling situations. They are helpless, hungry and abused. They are the victims of human trafficking, the child slaves – for chocolate!
Everyone agrees that trafficking in human beings and slavery is criminal. And let’s not kid ourselves, life on these plantations is no walk in the park, conditions are amongst the most dangerous and arduous imaginable. Surely it must be possible to buy tea, coffee, chocolate and cosmetics that use cocoa, in fact any commodity, without worrying about the suffering of innocent children in far away places?
In my next post I’ll try find out what happened to initiatives such as the fair trade movement.
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