Police in Côte d'Ivoire have pledged to increase their efforts to stop the trafficking of children in the cocoa supply chain after news emerged of an operation carried out last week in the eastern part of the country that rescued 137 children from forced labor and sex work in the force’s first major operation in several years.
According to the National Committee for Actions to Combat Trafficking, Exploitation and Child Labor (CNS), chaired by Côte d'Ivoire’s first lady, Dominique Ouattara, the children rescued ranged in ages from six to 17 and were of Nigerian, Beninese, Ghanaian and Togolese nationality.
The objective of the raid in the south-eastern town of Aboisso was to send a strong signal to the traffickers and over a 48-hour period, cars were searched, as well as cocoa farms and villages.
Twelve traffickers were also arrested.
"We are going to multiply this kind of operation," police superintendent Zaka Luc told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation president Richard Scobey told ConfectioneryNews: “The cocoa and chocolate industry has zero tolerance for forced labor by adults or children and these practices are extremely rare as indicated by a recent report. If any evidence of forced labor is found by companies, then this is reported to the authorities who have the power to pursue, arrest and bring to justice those who traffic children or adults. The decisive actions by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire this week are welcomed and critical steps to address the risk of forced labor in the cocoa supply chain through strong enforcement of national anti-slavery laws, prosecution of traffickers, and, most important of all, the rescue and protection of any children at risk.”
Côte d'Ivoire introduced its first national plan to end child labor in 2012, but the problem remains acute in poor farming communities in West Africa.
An estimated 890,000 children work in the cocoa sector, according to a 2018 report by anti-slavery organisation Walk Free Foundation.
Last year in the United States, two senators asked custom officials to block Ivorian cocoa imports unless the shipments can be certified as free of child labor, prompting an ongoing investigation into the matter.