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The modern slavery

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Issue 1744

Exposed in West Africa

The modern slavery

WHATEVER THE details of the latest journey by the “slave ship” Etireno, its voyage has again exposed the existence of child slavery in West Africa. When it docked in Benin on Monday it was expected to hold hundreds of children being transported for sale. In fact only a few children were on board.

What had happened to the others was unknown as Socialist Worker went to press. According to the United Nations agency UNICEF, there are up to 15,000 children working on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. These “chocolate slaves” work for 18 hours a day for little food and are locked up at night.

In all there are 200,000 child slaves in West Africa, most of them working on cotton plantations. Local traffickers in people make a profit supplying these workers. But the real villains are in plush boardrooms.

Ivory Coast produces half of the world’s cocoa. It is used by giant multinationals like Cadbury and Nestl to make a fat profit.

As one child worker told a Channel 4 documentary last year, “Tell the people in Europe who enjoy chocolate that they are eating my flesh.”

The giant firms’ stranglehold on raw materials prices intensifies the pressures which lead to child slavery. Cocoa prices dropped to a 30-year low last year and unpaid labour is tempting to local producers so that they can still make a profit.

The Anti-Slavery International charity says the debt crisis in Africa fuels the grim trade. Ivory Coast spends nearly 14 percent of its gross national product on debt. The birth of capitalism saw around 12 million Africans seized and transported across the Atlantic into slavery. The Bight of Benin was a notorious centre for that trade.

Capitalism today sentences the child slaves of West Africa to backbreaking toil and early death on those same shores.

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