The Washington Post

Co­coa’s child la­bor­ers

Mars, Nestlé and Her­shey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop us­ing co­coa har­vested by chil­dren. Yet much of the chocolate you buy still has the same ori­gins.

- BY PE­TER WHORISKEY AND RACHEL SIEGEL Food · Cocoa · Burkina Faso · Cote d'Ivoire · Washington · United States of America · Africa · West Africa · United States Department of Labor · Hershey · Hershey's · Mars Inc. · Nestle · Congress of the United States · United States Congress · Jeff Dunham · organization · The Post · World Bank · UNESCO · Tulane University · Chocolate

Five boys are swing­ing ma­chetes on a co­coa farm, slowly ad­vanc­ing against a wall of brush. Their ex­pres­sions are dead­pan, al­most va­cant, and they rarely talk. The only sounds in the still air are the whoosh of blades slic­ing through tall grass and metal­lic pings when they hit some­thing harder.

Each of the boys crossed the bor­der months or years ago from the im­pov­er­ished West African na­tion of Burk­ina Faso, tak­ing a bus away from home and par­ents to Ivory Coast, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of small farms have been carved out of the for­est.

Th­ese farms form the world’s most im­por­tant source of co­coa and are the set­ting for an epi­demic of child la­bor that the world’s largest chocolate com­pa­nies promised to erad­i­cate nearly 20 years ago.

“How old are you?” a Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter asks one of the older-look­ing boys.

“Nine­teen,” Abou Traore says in a hushed voice. Un­der Ivory Coast’s la­bor laws, that would make him le­gal. But as he talks, he casts ner­vous glances at the farmer who is over­see­ing his work from sev­eral steps away. When the farmer is distracted, Abou crouches and with his fin­ger, writes a dif­fer­ent an­swer in the gray sand: 15.

Then, to make sure he is un­der­stood, he also flashes 15 with his hands. He says, even­tu­ally, that he’s been work­ing the co­coa farms in Ivory Coast since he was

10. The other four boys say they are young, too — one says he is 15, two are 14 and an­other, 13.

Abou says his back hurts, and he’s hun­gry.

“I came here to go to school,” Abou says. “I haven’t been to school for five years now.”

‘Too lit­tle, too late’

The world’s chocolate com­pa­nies have missed dead­lines to up­root child la­bor from their co­coa sup­ply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010. Next year, they face an­other tar­get date and, in­dus­try of­fi­cials in­di­cate, they prob­a­bly will miss that, too.

As a re­sult, the odds are sub­stan­tial that a chocolate bar bought in the United States is the prod­uct of child la­bor.

About two-thirds of the world’s co­coa sup­ply comes from West Africa where, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 U.S. La­bor Depart­ment re­port, more than 2 mil­lion chil­dren were en­gaged in dan­ger­ous la­bor in co­coa-grow­ing re­gions.

When asked this spring, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of some of the big­gest and best-known brands — Her­shey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guar­an­tee that any of their choco­lates were pro­duced with­out child la­bor.

“I’m not go­ing to make those claims,” an ex­ec­u­tive at one of the large chocolate com­pa­nies said.

One rea­son is that nearly 20 years af­ter pledg­ing to erad­i­cate child la­bor, chocolate com­pa­nies still can­not iden­tify the farms where all their co­coa comes from, let alone whether child la­bor was used in pro­duc­ing it. Mars, maker of M&M’s and Milky Way, can trace only 24 per­cent of its co­coa back to farms; Her­shey, the maker of Kisses and Reese’s, less than half; Nestlé can trace 49 per­cent of its global co­coa sup­ply to farms.

With the growth of the global econ­omy, Amer­i­cans have be­come ac­cus­tomed to re­ports of worker and en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­ploita­tion in far­away places. But in few in­dus­tries, ex­perts say, is the ev­i­dence of ob­jec­tion­able prac­tices so clear, the in­dus­try’s pledges to re­form so am­bi­tious and the breach­ing of those prom­ises so ob­vi­ous.

In­dus­try prom­ises be­gan in 2001 when, un­der pres­sure from the U.S. Congress, chiefs of some of the big­gest chocolate com­pa­nies signed a pledge to erad­i­cate “the worst forms of child la­bor” from their West African co­coa sup­pli­ers. It was a pro­ject com­pa­nies agreed to com­plete in four years.

To suc­ceed, the com­pa­nies would have to over­come the pow­er­ful eco­nomic forces that draw chil­dren into hard la­bor in one of the world’s poor­est places. And they would have to de­velop a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem to as­sure con­sumers that a bag of M&M’s or a Reese’s Peanut But­ter Cup did not orig­i­nate with the swing­ing of a ma­chete by a boy like Abou.

Since then, how­ever, the chocolate in­dus­try also has scaled back its am­bi­tions. While the orig­i­nal prom­ise called for the erad­i­ca­tion of child la­bor in West African co­coa fields and set a dead­line for 2005, next year’s goal calls only for its re­duc­tion by 70 per­cent.

Ti­mothy S. McCoy, a vice pres­i­dent of the World Co­coa Foun­da­tion, a Wash­ing­ton-based trade group, said that when the in­dus­try signed onto the 2001 agree­ment, “the real mag­ni­tude of child la­bor in the co­coa sup­ply chain and how to ad­dress the phe­nom­e­non were poorly un­der­stood.”

In­dus­try of­fi­cials em­pha­sized that, ac­cord­ing to the pledge made to law­mak­ers, West African gov­ern­ments and la­bor or­ga­ni­za­tions also bear some re­spon­si­bil­ity for the erad­i­ca­tion of child la­bor.

To­day, McCoy said, the com­pa­nies “have made ma­jor strides,” in­clud­ing build­ing schools, sup­port­ing agri­cul­tural co­op­er­a­tives and ad­vis­ing farm­ers on bet­ter pro­duc­tion meth­ods.

In state­ments, some of the world’s big­gest chocolate com­pa­nies that signed the agree­ment — Her­shey, Mars and Nestlé — said they had taken steps to re­duce their re­liance on child la­bor.

Other com­pa­nies that were not sig­na­to­ries, such as Mon­delez and Go­diva, also have taken such steps, but like­wise would not guar­an­tee that any of their prod­ucts were free of child la­bor.

In all, the in­dus­try, which col­lects an es­ti­mated $103 bil­lion in sales an­nu­ally, has spent more than $150 mil­lion over 18 years to ad­dress the is­sue.

But when the busi­nesses ini­tially made the prom­ise to erad­i­cate child la­bor, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers and doc­u­ments, the com­pa­nies had lit­tle idea of how to do so. Their sub­se­quent ef­forts have been stalled by in­de­ci­sion and in­suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try crit­ics.

Their most prom­i­nent ef­fort — buy­ing co­coa that has been “cer­ti­fied” for eth­i­cal busi­ness prac­tices by third-party groups such as Fair­trade and Rain­for­est Al­liance, has been weak­ened by a lack of rig­or­ous en­force­ment of child la­bor rules. Typ­i­cally, the third­party in­spec­tors are re­quired to visit fewer than 10 per­cent of co­coa farms.

“The com­pa­nies have al­ways done just enough so that if there were any me­dia at­ten­tion, they could say, ‘Hey guys, this is what we’re do­ing,’ ” said An­tonie Foun­tain, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Voice Net­work, an um­brella group seek­ing to end child la­bor in the co­coa in­dus­try. “It’s al­ways been too lit­tle, too late. It still is.”

“We haven’t erad­i­cated child la­bor be­cause no one has been forced to,” Foun­tain added. “What has been the con­se­quence . . . for not meet­ing the goals? How many fines did they face? How many prison sen­tences? None. There has been zero con­se­quence.”

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. La­bor Depart­ment, a ma­jor­ity of the 2 mil­lion child la­bor­ers in the co­coa in­dus­try are liv­ing on their par­ents’ farms, do­ing the type of dan­ger­ous work — swing­ing ma­chetes, car­ry­ing heavy loads, spray­ing pes­ti­cides — that in­ter­na­tional au­thor­i­ties con­sider the “worst forms of child la­bor.”

A smaller num­ber, those trafly

ficked from nearby coun­tries, find them­selves in the most dire sit­u­a­tions.

Dur­ing a March trip through Ivory Coast’s co­coa-grow­ing ar­eas, jour­nal­ists from The Wash­ing­ton Post spoke with 12 chil­dren who said they had come, unac­com­pa­nied by par­ents, from Burk­ina Faso to work on co­coa farms.

While the ages they gave were

con­sis­tent with their ap­pear­ance, The Post could not ver­ify their birth dates. In much of Burk­ina Faso, as many as 40 per­cent of births go un­recorded in of­fi­cial records, and many chil­dren lack iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments.

The farms were eas­ily vis­ited be­cause they typ­i­cally lack fences, but peo­ple were of­ten re­luc­tant to talk about child la­bor, which is known to be il­le­gal and is of­fi­cia­land dis­cour­aged.

Asked about the ex­tent of child mi­grants work­ing on Ivo­rian co­coa farms, the farmer over­see­ing Abou and the other boys noted the steady stream of buses car­ry­ing peo­ple from Burk­ina Faso into the area. The Post’s re­porters also ob­served those buses dur­ing the March visit.

There’s “a lot of them com­ing,” said the farmer, who asked that his name not be used be­cause he didn’t want to at­tract at­ten­tion from the au­thor­i­ties. “It’s them who do the work.”

The farmer said he was pay­ing the “gran pa­tron,” the “big boss” who man­ages the boys, a lit­tle less than $9 per child for a week of work and, in turn, each of the boys would be paid about half of that.

The farmer said he con­sid­ers the boys’ treat­ment un­fair but hired them be­cause he needed the help. The low price for co­coa makes life dif­fi­cult for ev­ery­one, he said.

“I ad­mit that it is a kind of slav­ery,” the farmer said. “They are still kids and they have the right to be ed­u­cated to­day. But they bring them here to work, and it’s the boss who takes the money.” ‘It hap­pens on a large scale’

What makes the erad­i­ca­tion of child la­bor such a daunt­ing task is that, by most ac­counts, its roots lie in poverty.

The typ­i­cal Ivo­rian co­coa farm is small — less than 10 acres — the farmer’s an­nual house­hold in­come stands at about $1,900, ac­cord­ing to re­search for Fair­trade, one of the groups that is­sues a la­bel that is sup­posed to en­sure eth­i­cal busi­ness meth­ods. That amount is well be­low lev­els the World Bank de­fines as poverty for a typ­i­cal fam­ily. About 60 per­cent of the coun­try’s ru­ral pop­u­la­tion lacks ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, and, ac­cord­ing to UN­ESCO, the lit­er­acy rate of the Ivory Coast reaches about 44 per­cent.

With such low wages, Ivo­rian par­ents of­ten can’t af­ford the costs of send­ing their chil­dren to school — and they use them on the farm in­stead.

Other la­bor­ers come from the steady stream of child mi­grants who are brought to Ivory Coast by peo­ple other than their par­ents. At least 16,000 chil­dren, and per­haps many more, are forced to work on West African co­coa farms by peo­ple other than their par­ents, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from a 2018 sur­vey led by a Tu­lane Univer­sity re­searcher.

“There is ev­i­dence that it hap­pens, and it hap­pens on a large scale,” said Elke de Buhr, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor on the study, done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Walk Free Foun­da­tion, a group work­ing to end forced la­bor, and funded by the Sticht­ing de Cho­colonely Foun­da­tion.

The child mi­grants ar­rive amid a vast wave of peo­ple en­ter­ing from Burk­ina Faso and Mali. Ivory Coast is home to 1.3 mil­lion mi­grants from Burk­ina Faso and an­other 360,000 from Mali, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Mali, Burk­ina Faso and Ivory Coast share an agree­ment on open borders.

Upon ar­riv­ing in Ivory Coast’s co­coa-grow­ing ar­eas, child mi­grants are used to meet the de­mand on co­coa farms for ar­du­ous man­ual la­bor and stay year­round. There is land to be cleared, typ­i­cally with ma­chetes; spray­ings of pes­ti­cide; and more ma­chete work to gather and split open the co­coa pods. Fi­nally, the work in­volves car­ry­ing sacks of co­coa that may weigh 100 pounds or more.

“Côte d’Ivoire has long been seen as a land of bet­ter op­por­tu­nity in this part of the world,” McCoy, the in­dus­try spokesman, said. “That par­tic­u­lar sort of form of traf­fick­ing speaks to a broader phe­nom­e­non that is not spe­cific to co­coa, is not spe­cific to Côte d’Ivoire but speaks of peo­ple seek­ing op­por­tu­nity and that hap­pens all over the world.”

‘We are hun­gry’

From the Ivo­rian cap­i­tal of Abid­jan, the vil­lage of Bonon is a five-hour drive along two-lane roads pocked with pond-sized pot­holes. From the out­skirts of the vil­lage, foot­paths lead into the sur­round­ing forests, where farm­ers have cre­ated groves of co­coa trees.

In a patch of woods one day in March, an­other group of boys was at work with ma­chetes. Each said he had come from Burk­ina Faso to work on Ivory Coast’s co­coa farms.

Like teen boys else­where, the boys near Bonon — Abou Oue­drago, 15; Karim Bakary, 16; and Aboud­na­mune Oue­drago, 13 — wore colorful branded sports­wear. But they sleep in huts out in the woods, spend their days do­ing hard man­ual la­bor and don’t at­tend school or see their fam­i­lies. Karim’s yel­low Adi­das shirt was smeared with dirt. When one of the boys falls ill, they said they pool their money to go to the phar­macy.

Dur­ing a break in the typ­i­cal March day — where the tem­per­a­ture ran into the 90s — the boys shared wa­ter scooped into a bucket from a nearby pond. It was milky white.

They said they came in search of a bet­ter life and are paid about 85 cents a day.

“There is no money in Burk­ina,” said Karim, who said he ar­rived here four years ago when he was 12. “We suf­fer a lot to get some money there. We came here to be able to have some money to eat.”

One time, he said proudly, he was able to send some money back home: $34. He said he would like to stay in Ivory Coast to make more money.

The most somber of the three was Aboud­na­mune. He wore a Spi­der-Man ball cap and rarely smiled. He said he ar­rived two years ago when he was 11. He an­swered ques­tions halt­ingly, some­times staring into the dis­tance, and said he’d like to see his par­ents be­cause “it’s been a while.”

“Yes, it’s a lit­tle bit hard,” he said of his life on the co­coa farms. “We are hun­gry, and we make just a small amount of money.”

A 2009 Tu­lane sur­vey, based on in­ter­views with 600 former mi­grant co­coa work­ers, of­fered a

“I came here to go to school. I haven’t been to school for five years now.”

Abou Traore, 15, child la­borer who ar­rived from Burk­ina Faso

look at the eco­nomics that lead to child traf­fick­ing.

Traf­fick­ers typ­i­cally of­fer the chil­dren, who could be as young as 10, money or more spe­cific in­cen­tives, such as bi­cy­cles, to take the bus to Ivory Coast. About half of those in­ter­viewed said they were not free to re­turn home, and more than two-thirds said they ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence or threats.

Most had been look­ing for work, and some said the money they were promised was never paid.

The man who was manag­ing the boys for the owner of the farm, who de­clined to give his name, of­fered his per­spec­tive.

“Their par­ents aban­doned them,” he said. “They come here to make a liv­ing.”

Then, ap­par­ently con­cerned about the at­ten­tion the in­ter­view was draw­ing from passersby, he asked The Post’s jour­nal­ists to leave the farm.

‘A moral re­spon­si­bil­ity’

The most prom­i­nent, sus­tained pub­lic at­ten­tion to the is­sue arose 18 years ago with re­ports from news or­ga­ni­za­tions and the U.S. State Depart­ment that linked Amer­i­can chocolate to child slav­ery in West Africa.

“There is a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity . . . for us not to al­low slav­ery, child slav­ery, in the 21st cen­tury,” Rep. Eliot L. En­gel (D-N.Y.) said at the time.

En­gel in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would have cre­ated a fed­eral la­bel­ing sys­tem to in­di­cate whether child slaves had been used in grow­ing and har­vest­ing co­coa. It al­lot­ted $250,000 to the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­velop the la­bels.

The mea­sure passed the House, but the in­dus­try was adamant that no gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion was nec­es­sary.

“We don’t need leg­is­la­tion to deal with the prob­lem,” Su­san Smith, then a spokes­woman for the Chocolate Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, told a re­porter at the time. “We are al­ready act­ing.”

En­gel, along with then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), opted to ne­go­ti­ate an agree­ment with the chocolate com­pa­nies.

Now known as the Hark­inEn­gel Pro­to­col, the deal kept fed­eral reg­u­la­tors from polic­ing the chocolate sup­ply.

But the deal com­mit­ted the chocolate com­pa­nies to erad­i­cate child la­bor from their sup­ply chains and to de­velop and im­ple­ment “stan­dards of pub­lic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion,” which would in­di­cate that co­coa prod­ucts had been pro­duced “with­out any of the worst forms of child la­bor.”

The top of­fi­cials of Her­shey, Mars, Nestlé USA and five other chocolate com­pa­nies signed onto the deal. The sign­ing com­pa­nies had “pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity” for erad­i­cat­ing child la­bor, law­mak­ers said, but the Ivo­rian gov­ern­ment, la­bor or­ga­ni­za­tions and a con­sumer group also pledged sup­port.

The pro­to­col also spec­i­fied a dead­line: July 2005.

Over the next few years, the in­dus­try ap­proached the chal­lenge with work­ing groups, pilot pro­grams and at­tempts to re­de­fine its prom­ise.

The in­dus­try cre­ated the In­ter­na­tional Co­coa Ini­tia­tive, which was sup­posed to co­or­di­nate com­pany ef­forts. The com­pa­nies also formed a short-lived panel called the Ver­i­fi­ca­tion Work­ing Group. In West Africa, the in­dus­try sup­ported pilot projects for mon­i­tor­ing child la­bor.

Even some in­sid­ers say the early ef­forts were des­tined to fall short.

Pe­ter McAllister, who led the In­ter­na­tional Co­coa Ini­tia­tive from 2003 to 2010, said the com­pa­nies were “des­per­ate” to avoid the leg­is­la­tion and promised more than they could de­liver.

“Was there any chance of child la­bor be­ing erad­i­cated by 2005? No, never,” McAllister said. “They set them­selves up for a bit of a dis­as­ter be­cause of this magic date.”

“One ex­ec­u­tive told me at that point, ‘We would have signed a nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty,’ ” McAllister said.

Still, the in­dus­try gave the im­pres­sion it was mak­ing progress. In Fe­bru­ary 2005, Smith, of the Chocolate Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, told an NPR in­ter­viewer that the dead­line would be met.

“We have met ev­ery dead­line es­tab­lished in the pro­to­col agree­ment, and we’ll con­tinue to do so,” she said. “We have large-scale tests of the mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and the in­de­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in place. Those are go­ing on now.”

But as En­gel and oth­ers pointed out at the time, the com­pa­nies were not close to meet­ing the dead­line four months away. There were no con­sumer la­bels in the works; there was no clear ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem; the worst forms of child la­bor had not been erad­i­cated.

Shortly af­ter the dead­line passed, the in­dus­try sought to re­con­strue the mean­ing of a key clause in the agree­ment.

In 2007, in­dus­try of­fi­cials ar­gued that the promised “stan­dards of pub­lic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion” did not mean, as some ne­go­tia­tors had thought, the cre­ation of con­sumer la­bels in­di­cat­ing that a chocolate bar was free of child la­bor.

“Ev­ery­one in that room ne­go­ti­at­ing un­der­stood we were there to cre­ate a la­bel­ing re­quire­ment,” J. Wil­liam Goold, Harkin’s lead ne­go­tia­tor on the deal, said in an in­ter­view for this story. “We were talk­ing about con­sumer la­bels on chocolate. Any­body who thinks the lan­guage in Harkin-En­gel means any­thing other than la­bel­grim ing for con­sumers is en­gaged in cyn­i­cal self-delu­sion.”

In­stead, the in­dus­try said, the agree­ment meant that the com­pa­nies would pro­duce statis­tics on West African “la­bor con­di­tions” and “the lev­els” of child la­bor in West Africa.

In 2011, a decade af­ter sign­ing the deal, in­dus­try of­fi­cials also sug­gested that it had com­mit­ted the com­pa­nies to an im­pos­si­ble task.

“The in­dus­try in fact does not know of any [cer­ti­fi­ca­tion] sys­tem that cur­rently, or in the near term, can guar­an­tee the ab­sence of child la­bor, in­clud­ing traf­ficked la­bor, in the pro­duc­tion of co­coa in West Africa,” ac­cord­ing to a 2011 let­ter from an in­dus­try group rep­re­sent­ing Her­shey, Mars, Nestlé and other com­pa­nies, to re­searchers work­ing on a funded by the U.S. La­bor Depart­ment.

“There was — and is — no roadmap to im­ple­ment the Pro­to­col,” the let­ter said. The “in­dus­try has in good faith car­ried out that agree­ment, while ac­knowl­edg­ing sev­eral set­backs.”

‘Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion isn’t enough’

As the in­dus­try strug­gled to come up with its own sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing child la­bor, it in­creas­ingly turned to third par­ties to tackle the prob­lem.

Three non­profit groups — Fair­trade, Utz and Rain­for­est Al­liance — pro­vide la­bels to prod­ucts that have been pro­duced ac­cord­ing to their eth­i­cal stan­dards, which in­clude a pro­hi­bi­tion on child la­bor.

Over the past decade, the chocolate com­pa­nies have pledged to buy in­creas­ing amounts of co­coa cer­ti­fied by one of th­ese three groups. Mars re­ports buy­ing about half of its co­coa from cer­ti­fied sources; Her­shey re­ports 80 per­cent. In ex­change for meet­ing the groups’ eth­i­cal stan­dards, farm­ers are paid as much as 10 per­cent more for their co­coa.

Yet some of the com­pa­nies ac­knowl­edge that such cer­ti­fi­ca­tions have been in­ad­e­quate to the child la­bor chal­lenge. The farm in­spec­tions are so spo­radic, and so eas­ily evaded, that even some chocolate com­pa­nies that have used the la­bels ac­knowl­edge they do not erad­i­cate child la­bor.

In­spec­tions for the la­bels typ­i­cally are an­nounced in ad­vance and are re­quired of fewer than 1 in 10 farms an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the groups.

“Put sim­ply, when the [cer­tifi cation] au­di­tors came, the chil­dren were ush­ered from the fields and when in­ter­viewed, the farm­ers de­nied they were ever there,” ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Nestlé re­port.

“Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion isn’t enough,” John Ament, Mars’s global vice pres­i­dent for co­coa, told Reuters in Septem­ber.

Or, as an in­dus­try group rep­re­sent­ing Mars and Her­shey put it, in a 2011 let­ter to re­searchers: “Given the ab­sence of farm level mon­i­tor­ing, none of the three ma­jor ‘prod­uct cer­ti­fiers’ have claimed to of­fer a guar­an­tee with re­spect to la­bor prac­tices.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the cer­ti­fy­ing groups ac­knowl­edge that their la­bels are im­per­fect tools for the erad­i­ca­tion of child la­bor and that they are im­prov­ing their meth­ods.

“Child la­bor in the co­coa in­dus­try will con­tinue to be a strug­gle as long as we con­tinue to pay farm­ers a frac­tion of the cost of sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion . . . . Fair­trade isn’t a per­fect so­lu­tion,” said Bryan Lew, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Fair­trade Amer­ica. But, he said, the higher prices for cer­ti­fied co­coa and the group’s ef­forts to or­ga­nize farmer co­op­er­a­tives are steps to­ward al­le­vi­at­ing its root cause: poverty.

While most ma­jor chocolate com­pa­nies seek to buy at least some “cer­ti­fied” co­coa, Her­shey has pur­sued cer­ti­fi­ca­tion more than oth­ers.

Her­shey “will source 100 per­cent cer­ti­fied co­coa for its global chocolate prod­uct lines by 2020 and ac­cel­er­ate its pro­grams to help elim­i­nate child la­bor in the co­coa re­gions of West Africa,” the com­pany an­nounced in a 2012 news re­lease.

Leigh Horner, Her­shey’s vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sus­tain­abil­ity, said the com­pany’s ef­forts are not re­liant on the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions alone. It views them in­stead “as one of many tools and strate­gies that need to be de­ployed . . . . With­out the sup­port of the lo­cal gov­ern­ments, th­ese var­i­ous ef­forts won’t work.”

‘Se­verely in­ad­e­quate’

One day this March, Amadou Sawadogo, 18, was pre­par­ing a patch of for­est for a co­coa farm near the vil­lage of Blole­quin, by the Liberian bor­der.

He said he had been liv­ing in Burk­ina Faso and, when he was 16, came to Ivory Coast af­ter “my fa­ther . . . asked [me] to come and look for money here.”

Like oth­ers here, he said it was com­mon for Burk­in­abe chil­dren to come with traf­fick­ers to work in Ivory Coast and that the fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments are well known. There are about 30 young Burk­in­abe work­ing around Blole­quin, he said. Pay­ments from the traf­fick­ers to par­ents de­pended on a child’s age. For a 15-year-old, he said, par­ents would be paid about $250. Once on the Ivo­rian farms, the boys make a lit­tle bit of money, typ­i­cally less than a $1 per day, Sawadogo said.

None of this is le­gal un­der Ivo­rian law.

Ivory Coast signed the Harkin-En­gel deal, too, and passed laws in 2010 and 2016 that de­fine child la­bor and set penal­ties for its use. The Ivory Coast gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee han­dling child la­bor is­sues also said that it has taken other pre­ven­tive mea­sures: It built schools in ru­ral ar­eas and cracked down on peo­ple in­volved in child traf­fick­ing.

Child la­bor and child traf­fick­ing have flour­ished nonethe­less be­cause of the coun­try’s in­abil­ity to en­force the laws. As U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cials noted in a 2018 re­port, the pri­mary po­lice anti-traf­fick­ing unit is based in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, Abid­jan, sev­eral hours away from the co­coa-grow­ing ar­eas, and its bud­get is about $5,000 a year.

That amount, a State Depart­ment re­port says, is “se­verely in­ad­e­quate.”

In a state­ment to The Post, Ivory Coast’s com­mit­tee against child traf­fick­ing and child la­bor, said the $5,000 per year was not suf­fi­cient and that “the Ivo­rian gov­ern­ment has to in­vest more in this area.” The coun­try also has faced the erup­tion of on-and-off civil wars in 2002 and 2011.

Mak­ing mat­ters more com­plex, some of the young mi­grant work­ers, legally the vic­tims of child la­bor, say they’d like to stay. Though he had ar­rived only two years ago, Sawadogo said he was pre­pared to stay in Ivory Coast and had started clear­ing his own patch of for­est for a co­coa farm. On his plot of land, Sawadogo had built a small shel­ter out of branches. It was big enough for one per­son to sleep in. He owned a cou­ple of bat­tered metal bowls and had some oil, which he’d use to fry ba­nanas picked for lunch.

“I haven’t earned much money yet,” he said. “But here I’ve made a lit­tle money.”

‘No­body needs chocolate’

Af­ter miss­ing the 2010 dead­line, the in­dus­try es­tab­lished a less am­bi­tious goal — to get a 70 per­cent re­duc­tion in child la­bor — and to do so by 2020. That goal, too, is un­likely to be met, the in­dus­try has in­di­cated, and there is still no plan for con­sumer la­bels.

Over the years since strik­ing the deal with the chocolate in­dus­try, Harkin and En­gel have is­sued state­ments that some­times sup­ported the in­dus­try’s evolv­ing ap­proach and other times laid out their hopes for more im­prove­ment.

En­gel, now chair­man of the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs, said pol­i­cy­mak­ers have worked closely with the in­dus­try to make progress.

“The co­coa in­dus­try now makes se­ri­ous in­vest­ments in ad­dress­ing child la­bor. We still have more work to do when it comes to this chal­lenge,” he said.

En­gel said the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is work­ing on leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress child la­bor and sup­ply chain is­sues and will likely hold a hear­ing later this year focused on the mat­ter.

Harkin did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment.

The prob­lem, in part, ac­cord­ing to some in­dus­try con­sul­tants, is that the com­pa­nies have not done enough to fully in­ves­ti­gate the depth of the prob­lem.

The co­coa sec­tor has sought “rel­a­tively lit­tle ev­i­dence re­lat­ing to

child slav­ery,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Em­bode, a hu­man rights agency, for Mon­delez, a U.S. com­pany that in­cludes sev­eral chocolate brands, in­clud­ing Cad­bury and Toblerone. There has been a “gen­eral lack . . . of suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion” to the prob­lem, the re­port stated.

In the last ma­jor sur­vey to mea­sure progress against the Harkin-En­gel goals, a 2015 re­port for the U.S. La­bor Depart­ment found that, based on in­ter­views with about 12,000 peo­ple, the num­ber of child la­bor­ers re­ported to have worked in West Africa the pre­vi­ous year had in­creased to 2.1 mil­lion from 1.8 mil­lion in the pre­vi­ous sur­vey, com­pleted in 2009.

McCoy, of the World Co­coa Foun­da­tion, said the re­sults were “in many ways . . . dis­ap­point­ing,” es­pe­cially given years of work on the is­sue. He did note some pos­i­tive signs — of the Ivo­rian chil­dren work­ing in co­coa, the per­cent­age at­tend­ing school had risen to 71 per­cent, up from 59 per­cent.

And, he noted, the com­pa­nies have an­other pro­gram to com­bat child la­bor, one that now cov­ers more than 200,000 West African farms.

The new sys­tem re­lies on hir­ing a lo­cal farmer to check other farms for child la­bor. If chil­dren are found work­ing, the farmer is en­cour­aged to send the chil­dren to school, and he or she is of­fered other as­sis­tance. The ad­van­tage, ad­vo­cates say, is that the over­sight comes from some­one more like a so­cial worker than a po­lice of­fi­cer.

In pilot pro­grams, the new mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem re­duced child la­bor by 30 per­cent over three years, but it’s still not clear how will­ing the com­pa­nies are to ex­tend the pro­gram to their en­tire co­coa sup­ply. It can cost about $70 an­nu­ally per farmer.

“If child la­bor is a pri­or­ity, this is com­mer­cially sus­tain­able,” said Nick Weather­ill, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Co­coa Ini­tia­tive, which is de­vel­op­ing the sys­tem.

Mean­while, some ex­perts note, what might be the most straight­for­ward means of ad­dress­ing child la­bor is scarcely men­tioned: pay­ing the farm­ers more for their co­coa. More money would give farm­ers enough to pay for their chil­dren’s school ex­penses; al­le­vi­at­ing their poverty would make them less des­per­ate.

Un­der the Fair­trade pro­gram, co­coa farm­ers re­ceive an ex­tra 10 per­cent or more of prices, but that is not enough to lift the typ­i­cal Ivo­rian farmer out of poverty. One small Dutch com­pany, Tony’s Choco-lonely, is pay­ing an even big­ger pre­mium — about 40 per­cent more, in an at­tempt to pro­vide a liv­ing wage. For a met­ric ton of co­coa beans that would nor­mally fetch $1,300, Tony’s pays an ex­tra $520, or about $1,820.

Asked how likely it might be for other com­pa­nies to fol­low suit, Paul Schoen­mak­ers, a Tony’s com­pany ex­ec­u­tive, noted that many of the large chocolate brands may fear giv­ing their com­peti­tors a price ad­van­tage by pay­ing more. Schoen­mak­ers said their pre­mium co­coa price adds less than 10 per­cent to the cost of a typ­i­cal chocolate bar.

“There’s no eco­nomic text­book or man­age­ment book that thinks that [pay­ing more] is a good idea,” he said.

The in­dus­try spokesman, McCoy, said he views the Tony’s Choco-lonely ef­fort as an ex­per­i­ment.

“Tony’s sources 7,000 tons of co­coa, which is a tiny amount . . . . How scal­able is that ap­proach?” McCoy said. “I think it’s an open ques­tion.”

But to Schoen­mak­ers, it’s a sim­ple mat­ter. “No­body needs chocolate,” he said. “It’s a gift to your­self or some­one else. We think it’s ab­so­lute mad­ness that for a gift that no one re­ally needs, so many peo­ple suf­fer.”

 ?? SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? Karim Bakary, 16, came from Burk­ina Faso to work on co­coa farms in Ivory Coast. “We suf­fer a lot to get some money there,” he said. “We came here to be able to have some money to eat.”
SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST Karim Bakary, 16, came from Burk­ina Faso to work on co­coa farms in Ivory Coast. “We suf­fer a lot to get some money there,” he said. “We came here to be able to have some money to eat.”
 ?? PHO­TOS BY SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? TOP: Abou Oue­drago, 15, from Burk­ina Faso, uses a ma­chete to chop down a tree on a co­coa farm. CEN­TER LEFT: A worker cuts a co­coa pod to col­lect the beans. CEN­TER RIGHT: Chil­dren at a co­coa farm share wa­ter that was scooped into a bucket from a nearby pond. ABOVE: A bus from Burk­ina Faso car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers and traf­ficked chil­dren as young as 12 ar­rives at night in Ivory Coast.
PHO­TOS BY SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST TOP: Abou Oue­drago, 15, from Burk­ina Faso, uses a ma­chete to chop down a tree on a co­coa farm. CEN­TER LEFT: A worker cuts a co­coa pod to col­lect the beans. CEN­TER RIGHT: Chil­dren at a co­coa farm share wa­ter that was scooped into a bucket from a nearby pond. ABOVE: A bus from Burk­ina Faso car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers and traf­ficked chil­dren as young as 12 ar­rives at night in Ivory Coast.
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 ?? PHO­TOS BY SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? TOP: Abou Traore, 15, from Burk­ina Faso, sits against a tree and dries the sweat from his face with his T-shirt while on a break at a co­coa farm. CEN­TER: Work­ers gather dried co­coa beans out­side an Ivory Coast co­op­er­a­tive fa­cil­ity. ABOVE: Trucks loaded with bags of co­coa are seen out­side an Abid­jan fa­cil­ity for Cargill, one of the lead­ing co­coa sup­pli­ers for the chocolate in­dus­try.
PHO­TOS BY SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST TOP: Abou Traore, 15, from Burk­ina Faso, sits against a tree and dries the sweat from his face with his T-shirt while on a break at a co­coa farm. CEN­TER: Work­ers gather dried co­coa beans out­side an Ivory Coast co­op­er­a­tive fa­cil­ity. ABOVE: Trucks loaded with bags of co­coa are seen out­side an Abid­jan fa­cil­ity for Cargill, one of the lead­ing co­coa sup­pli­ers for the chocolate in­dus­try.
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