Child Labor Supplies Popular Chocolate Brands

Earlier this month, Interpol publicized the results of a first-of-its-kind operation in West Africa aimed at freeing children trafficked to cocoa- and palm-plantation owners. The operation resulted in the arrests of eight people on charges of illegal recruitment of minors and the rescue of 54 children — aged 11-16 — from seven countries.

“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. The trafficking of children is often camouflaged by the cultural practice of placing young children with families of wealthier relatives to receive an education or learn a trade,” Interpol said in a press release on the operation.

Like most victims of trafficking for labor around the globe, the children told Interpol of 12-hour workdays, no pay and no access to education. Interpol is planning another similar operation in the region.

For years children’s rights and labor advocates have urged governments in the region to do more to address the problem, which is fueled, in part, by social tradition, ignorance and economic need. Activists have also taken aim at the global chocolate industry for helping to perpetuate child labor in the coca industry.

While the industry vowed to work towards eliminating child labor and removing child labor-produced cocoa from companies’ supply chains in 2001, advocates have been dissatisfied with uneven progress.

Major global chocolate brands like Hershey and Nestle continue to be targets of activist campaigns. This summer, for example, the International Labor Rights Forum, Global Exchange and other groups joined hands to run a “We Want More from our Smores!” campaign urging Hershey’s to use only Fair Trade Certified Chocolate in its products.