Truck drivers from Burkina Faso intercept child victims of human trafficking and prevent them from being enslaved in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast. Brahima from the Burkinabe drivers’ union and Madi from the association that cares and trains the children, testify how they fight against the terrible trafficking of children.
Fighting the problem at the source. That is exactly what the comrades of the Union nationale des Chauffeurs Routiers du Burkina (UCRB, truck drivers’ union) of Burkina are doing, with the support of the ABVV Horval and the NGO Solsoc. We met Brahima Rabo (right in the photo), president of the UCRB, and Madi Sawadogo (left), president of ATY, an association that takes care of children who are victims of human trafficking, sends them to school and provides them with training.
Cocoa with very bitter taste
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, accounting for 40% of total world production. It supplies multinationals such as Barry Callebaut and Cargill, which process the cocoa in our country. Cocoa is a very important economic sector for this West African country, accounting for 14% of gross domestic product (the total value of all goods and services produced in a country).
The cocoa industry and plantations are marred by a number of sad phenomena: deforestation, use of harmful pesticides such as glyphosate, slavery, forced and child labor. By exploiting children, cocoa farmers ensure themselves very cheap labor. After all, those cocoa farmers in turn sell the beans at ridiculous prices to the foreign multinationals that dominate the market.
According to a study by the University of Chicago, almost 800,000 children worked on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast in 2019. Despite the fact that child labor is prohibited.
Dangerous, unpaid work
On the plantations the children do heavy and dangerous work, without any protection. They remove the pods from the cocoa trees and use machetes to break them. Carrying the heavy harvested pods, they travel long distances. They have to use pesticides such as glyphosate, which endangers their health.
Despite the risks they face and the promises they receive, the children work for years free in exchange for food. In the best cases, they are paid several years later, when they are given a small piece of land. They will then become cocoa farmers themselves and ironically they will in turn use children in the fields. It’s a vicious circle.
The majority of children working in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast come from neighboring countries, mainly Burkina Faso. Traffickers approach poor families directly, who agree to give up their children without really knowing the risks they face. The children are then taken to Ivory Coast.
This is where UCRB, a partner of ABVV Horval, intervenes. The Burkinabe Truck Drivers’ Union – which has more than 28,000 members – has developed a project to put an end to this scourge. They train the truck and bus drivers driving around Burkina Faso to recognize situations of child trafficking. If necessary, they immediately contact the relevant services and authorities. “In 2019 we have a network dismantled that trafficked approximately sixty children under the age of fifteen,” explains Brahima Rabo. “The trafficker in question was brought to justice and sentenced to fourteen years.”
Since impunity is one of the biggest problems standing in the way of eradicating the phenomenon, the UCRB chairman now has confidence in it. “This conviction is a good start and can serve as an example. The police services are committed to dismantling the entire network. Investigations are underway,” he added.
“Children belong at school, not on the plantations.”
— Brahima Rabo, Chairman UCRB
Once intercepted, the children are given shelter and guidance. Brahima: “First and foremost we try to reunite the children with their families. If this is not possible, the youngest children are taken care of by the social services of Burkina Faso and sent to school. Children belong at school, not on the plantations.”
But the project doesn’t end there. A new partnership has been set up with the association Tind Yalgré (“Hope to Grow” in Burkinabe), which provides vocational training for the elderly. “We train them to be bakers, hairdressers, teach them mechanics, etc.,” says ATY chairman Madi Sawadogo. “Many of the youth we trained have become self-employed entrepreneurs after 2-3 years,” he adds. In addition to their vocational training, the young people also receive guidance to develop their lives. They learn how to manage their money, open a bank account, and so on. They also receive pocket money, which most send to their families back home. They are also registered with a health insurance fund.
“Many of the young people we trained have become self-employed entrepreneurs after 2-3 years.”
— Madi Sawadogo, President ATY
Madi is moved when we ask about a concrete story that stays with him. “This project with children touches me. It’s in my heart,” he admits. He talks about Kabre, a boy he calls by his surname, as often happens in Burkina Faso. “Kabre was one 17 year old orphan when we took care of him. The eldest of ten siblings he had to care for. We taught him the baker’s trade and took his brothers and sisters to school. He later opened a bakery and then a cafe and is now able to feed his family. Today he also trains other young people in the project.” This way the circle is complete.
None of this would be possible without international solidarity, both presidents emphasize. “The partnership with ABVV Horval and the NGO Solsoc has created links between the different organizations in Burkina Faso. The collaboration also allows us to share knowledge and provide financial and political support,” Rabo explains.
For example, ABVV Horval lobbies European and international institutions to ensure that multinationals have a decent price pay for cocoa. This way, cocoa farmers would have a better income and not use cheap child labor. Various missions have also already been organized, in which ABVV representatives visited their company’s local factories in other countries to gain insight into the concrete working conditions with their own eyes.
From villages in Burkina Faso where children are taken from their families… to the chocolate we consume in Belgium. This project reminds us that workers’ struggles are international. Only together can we satisfy the profit hunger of multinationals. Only together can we create a better world for our children. Here and elsewhere, figuratively and literally.