Archive for September, 2009

New url. Sorry!

September 19, 2009

You may or may not have noticed that we have a new url… again. We’re now at

Sorry for the inconvenience! Please make not that the twitter account is the same


The email is different

I’ve switched over the text on the fliers, but please let me know if you see an error anywhere else.


Stories, part two. Life on a Slave Farm

September 19, 2009

We wanted to share some stories with you.

Sudarsan Raghavan and Sumana Chatterjee
Knight Ridder Newspapers
June 24, 2001

(This full article was no longer available on the web, so a copy has been presented at I will be posting it here, one section at a time, for your convenience. Do keep in mind the age of the article, some of the information or statistics may no longer be accurate, but it’s the personal stories from kids like Oumar that are important to share.)

One day early last year, a boy named Oumar Kone was caught trying to escape. One of Le Gros’ overseers beat him, said the other boys and local authorities. A few days later, Oumar ran away again, and this time he escaped. He told elders in the local Malian immigrant community what was happening on Le Gros’ farm. They called Abdoulaye Macko, who was then the Malian consul general in Bouake, a town north of Daloa, in the heart of Ivory Coast’s cocoa- and coffee-growing region.

Macko (MOCK-o) went to the farm with several police officers, and he found the 19 boys there. Aly, the youngest, was 13. The oldest was 21. They had spent anywhere from six months to four and a half years on Le Gros’ farm.

“They were tired, slim, they were not smiling,” Macko said. “Except one child was not there. This one, his face showed what was happening. He was sick, he had (excrement) in his pants. He was lying on the ground, covered with cacao leaves because they were sure he was dying. He was almost dead. . . . He had been severely beaten.”

According to medical records, other boys had healed scars as well as open, infected wounds all over their bodies. Police freed the boys, and a few days later the Malian consulate in Bouake sent them all home to their villages in Mali. The sick boy was treated at a local hospital, then he was sent home, too.

Le Gros was charged with assault against children and suppressing the liberty of people. The latter crime carries a five- to 10 year prison sentence and a hefty fine, said Daleba Rouba, attorney general for the region.

“In Ivorian law, an adult who orders a minor to hit and hurt somebody is automatically responsible as if he has committed the act,” said Rouba. “Whether or not Le Gros did the beatings himself or ordered somebody, he is liable.”

Le Gros spent 24 days in jail, and today he is a free man pending a court hearing that is scheduled for June 28. Rouba said the case against Le Gros is weak because the witnesses against him have all been sent back to Mali.

“If the Malian authorities are willing to cooperate, if they can bring two or three of the children back as witnesses, my case will be stronger,” Rouba said. Mamadou Diarra, the Malian consul general in Bouake, said he would look into the matter.

Child trafficking experts say inadequate legislation, ignorance of the law, poor law enforcement, porous borders, police corruption and a shortage of resources help perpetuate the problem of child slavery in Ivory Coast. Only 12 convicted slave traders are serving time in Ivorian prisons. Another eight, convicted in absentia, are on the lam.

The middlemen who buy Ivory Coast cocoa beans from farmers and sell them to processors seldom visit the country’s cocoa farms, and when they do, it’s to examine the beans, not the workers. Young boys are a common sight on the farms of West Africa, and it’s impossible to know without asking which are a farmer’s own children, which are field hands who will be paid $150 to $180 after a year’s work and which are slaves.

“We’ve never seen child slavery. We don’t go to the plantations. The slavery here is long gone,” said G.H. Haidar, a cocoa buyer in Daloa, in the heart of Ivory Coast’s cocoa region. “We’re only concerned with our work.”

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, based in Vienna, Va., at first said the industry was not aware of slavery, either. After Knight Ridder began inquiring about the use of slaves on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, however, the CMA in late April acknowledged that a problem might exist and said it strongly condemned “these practices wherever they may occur.”

In May, the association decided to expand an Ivory Coast farming program to include education on “the importance of children.” And in June, the CMA agreed to fund a survey of child labor practices on Ivory Coast cocoa farms.

Finally, on Friday, the CMA announced some details of the joint study, which will survey 2,000 cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. “Now we are not debating that this is true,” CMA President Larry Graham said Friday when asked about cocoa farm slavery. “We’re accepting that this is a fact.”

Ivorian officials have found scores of enslaved children from Mali and Burkina Faso and sent them home and they have asked the International Labor Organization, a global workers’ rights agency, to help them conduct a child labor survey that’s expected to be completed this year.

But they continue to blame the problem on immigrant farmers from Mali and on world cocoa prices that have fallen almost 24 percent since 1996, from 67 cents a pound to 51 cents, forcing impoverished farmers to use the cheapest labor they can find.

Ivory Coast Agriculture Minister Alfonse Douaty calls child slavery a marginal “clandestine phenomenon” that exists on only a handful of the country’s more than 600,000 cocoa and coffee farms.

“Those who do this are hidden, well hidden,” said Douaty (Doo-AH-tee). He said his government is clamping down on child traffickers by beefing up border patrols and law enforcement, and running education campaigns to boost awareness of anti-slavery laws and efforts.

Douaty said child labor in Ivory Coast should not be called slavery, because the word conjures up images of chains and whips. He prefers the term “indentured labor.”

Ivory Coast authorities ordered Le Gros to pay Aly and the other boys a total of 4.3 million African Financial Community francs (about $6,150) for their time as indentured laborers. Aly got 125,000 francs (about $180) for the 18 months he worked on the cocoa farm.

Aly bought himself the very thing the trader who enslaved him had promised: a bicycle. It has a light, a yellow horn and colorful bottle caps in the spokes. He rides it everywhere.

Aly helps his parents by selling vegetables in a nearby market, but he still doesn’t understand why he was a slave. When he was told that some American children spend nearly as much every year on chocolate as he was paid for six months’ work harvesting cocoa beans, he replied without bitterness:

“I bless them because they are eating it.”