Twenty-two suspects have reportedly been arrested for child trafficking by authorities in the Ivory Coast. At least 68 children were rescued from cocoa plantations where they were being used as labour. These arrests follow shortly after a crackdown on child trafficking began in Soubré, a town in the southwestern part of the country, at the beginning of May. The perpetrators have been given sentences of up to 20 years each according to Ivorian prosecutors.
Ivory Coast is one of the leading cocoa producers in the world, alongside Ghana, with 70 percent of the production carried by the two countries. However, child labour, trafficking and even slavery remain the major challenges of this thriving industry. The recent police operation was the first since 2014 due to a lack of funding and resources although there have been 600 successful prosecutions to date, Reuters reports. One hundred police officers were mobilised over the course of just two days.
While the exact figures vary, the number of children involved in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa trade has been estimated to be as high as 1.2 million although there are reports of more conservative figures. Unfortunately, the child trafficking is also closely associated with slavery as many children are forced to work on these plantations without pay and under poor conditions.
Given that the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry supplies some of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, this raises questions around what steps the chocolate industry should be taking to remedy the crisis in much the same way the diamond and clothing industries have been indicted for human rights abuses with regards to the source of their respective labour forces.