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Up to a million child cocoa workers in W Africa

20 November 2013, 10:30

Abidjan - Hundreds of thousands of child workers, possibly more than a million, are being exploited by the cocoa industry's two top producers, an international group warned on Tuesday.

At least 300 000 children are working in chocolate production in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world's number one and two cocoa producers, said the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI).

That figure could even be as high as "a million or more", said Nick Weatherhill, the director of ICI, which works to eliminate child labour in cocoa-growing communities.

Weatherhill said estimates can vary wildly depending on the type of employment taken into account, whether it be forced labour as opposed to part-time work by a child in school.

"For us, whether it be 300 000 or one million, it shows that the phenomenon is prevalent in all the cocoa-growing areas," he said. "It exists in every cocoa-growing community."

In 2007, the UN children's agency Unicef put the number of child cocoa labourers in Ivory Coast at 200 000, with most originating from the centre and north of the country, as well as from Burkina Faso and Togo.

That same year, Tulane University in the United States estimated that 820 000 children in Ivory Coast and one million in Ghana were working in "cocoa-linked activities".

Cocoa and coffee growers

A shortage of schools in the region, coupled with the need of poor parents to send their children out to earn money, has made child labour widespread.

A quarter of children aged 5-17 are already working in Ivory Coast, according to a recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), with over half of those employed in agriculture.

Nearly a quarter work in business and 10% are in industry, the report said.

About a fifth of the children working in agriculture are cocoa and coffee growers, who typically work over 42 hours a week, the ILO said.

But the International Cocoa Initiative said it believed the situation was improving, with figures suggesting child labour had decreased by 20% in Ghana and Ivory Coast in recent years.

Ivory Coast has spent 20 million CFA francs ($41 000) to build schools, pharmacies and invest in electricity in efforts to reduce child labour, an industry representative said.



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