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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
The bitter taste of slavery
Domestic child slave
West Africa has a major problem with child slavery (Unicef)
By Liz Blunt

A British television documentary has revealed the desperate plight of many workers on cocoa farms in West Africa - source of much of the world's chocolate.

The makers of Channel 4's Slavery series say more people now live in a state of slavery than at any time in history.

They support their assertion with reports from the United States, Britain, India and the Ivory Coast.

map of Ivory Coast
The film makers say every country in the world has laws against slavery, and yet hundreds of thousands of people, most of them very young, work without pay, without the freedom to leave their job, and are often beaten and intimidated by their employers.

Two of the cases highlighted by the programme have been publicised in the past - those of children in Indian carpet workshops, and domestic workers brought by their employers to Europe and the US.

Cocoa farms

Less widely know is what happens on the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast, the subject of Thursday night's episode.

Cocoa plant
Ivorian cocoa plantations need a lot of labour
Migrant labourers from neighbouring countries, particularly Mali, have always worked the cocoa plantations.

In the past, they would be contracted for the farming season, and at the end when the farmer sold his crop, they would get their pay and return home.

But cocoa prices are at a ten-year low and deregulation of the market has made it harder for farmers to get their money.

Hands of consumers

Less scrupulous farmers have stopped paying their workers altogether.

The Malian consul in the Ivory Coast has had to rescue boys who had worked five years or more without payment and been brutally beaten if they tried to run away.

A bitter taste in the mouth?
The programme makers say the solution ultimately lies in the hands of consumers.

They say people have to be prepared to pay a little more for their chocolate or their carpets, since it is the relentless downward pressure on prices which reduces workers to poverty and slavery.

British chocolate makers have promised to investigate the allegations made in the programme.

In a statement the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance (BCCCA) said: "We do not believe that the farms visited by the programme are in the least representative of cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast, although the claims cannot be ignored."

The BCCCA said their representatives made regular trips to the Ivory Coast and added: "If any evidence of these abhorrent practices is revealed we will inform the appropriate authorities and insist they take the necessary preventative action."

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See also:

06 Aug 99 | Africa
West Africa's child slave trade
18 Sep 00 | Africa
Oasis of calm no more
17 Jun 99 | World
Child slavery ban agreed
15 Jul 00 | Africa
Cocoa destroyed to boost price
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