March 2019
Attention to human rights in the cocoa sector in West Africa has historically centered on the problem of child labor, which has long been known to be endemic in the industry. In recent years, however, a combination of increasing public awareness and intensifying international regulatory pressure has led to a heightened focus on the risk of forced labor — often termed “modern day slavery” — in the sector as well.
Verité released a new research study this past February on the nature and indicators of forced labor and human trafficking for labor exploitation in the cocoa sector of Côte d’Ivoire. The report is accompanied by a comprehensive set of actionable recommendations for government, industry, and civil society to address the problem through strategic, targeted programming.
A statistically representative study by Tulane University and Walk Free Foundation in 2018 estimated that 0.42 percent of adults working in cocoa experienced forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire (CDI) between 2013 and 2017.[1] The same study found that 0.17 percent of children working in cocoa agriculture in CDI were forced to work by someone other than a parent.[2] While percentages are low relative to the overall population, the very large number of people involved in cocoa production in the country means that victims likely number in the thousands. Given the hidden nature of much human trafficking and forced labor, it is also possible that levels may be significantly higher within isolated pockets in the sector.
In late 2016, at the request of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and two of its major private sector members, Verité researchers undertook rapid appraisal research to explore the nature of forced labor risk in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire. The study did not seek to document the overall level of forced labor in the sector, but instead to identify and qualitatively describe the nature of the specific indicators of forced labor that appear to be most relevant in the Ivoirian context. Verité based the methodology for this research on the definition of forced labor and methodological guidance on forced labor research provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO).[3] Using the ILO’s forced labor indicator framework, the Verité study focused on identifying specific risk factors for forced labor faced by cocoa workers, sharecroppers, and primary producers in Côte d’Ivoire. The study also explored the root causes and contextual factors that contribute to forced labor vulnerability in the sector.
Verité’s Findings
Overall, the research found that while forced labor risk is present in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire, it appears to be limited primarily to a narrow group of people: recently arrived migrant workers. In particular, those migrant workers from Burkina Faso, Mali, or non-cocoa producing areas of Côte d’Ivoire (and their children, if also working) who have recruitment-related debt and are relatively early (first two to three years) into their employment tenure appear to have the highest vulnerability for forced labor. Migrant workers in the cocoa sector may be adults or children; both are potentially at risk of forced labor.
Researchers found evidence that such migrant workers may experience deception during recruitment, debt bondage linked to debt incurred in the course of their recruitment, delayed or non-payment of wages, and conditions of multiple dependency on their employers (e.g., for housing, food, or access to credit), all of which are indicators of forced labor risk. Potential elements that may compound the forced labor risk faced by recent migrants and other vulnerable workers were also identified in the Verité study. Such compounding factors include working in a remote area, lack of formal education and/or low level of literacy, and the absence of local systems or resources for workers to address concerns or issues arising during their employment.
Recommendations for Stakeholders
With support from the International Cocoa Initiative and in consultation with a range of industry, government, and civil society actors, Verité used findings from this study to develop a companion set of recommendations for key stakeholders on potential interventions to combat the forced labor risks identified. Four categories of action are suggested in the recommendations:

Establishing robust systems to monitor, remediate, and prevent forced labor;
Strengthening underlying supply chain infrastructure;
Improving data collection and reporting of forced labor risk factors; and
Facilitating accountability and independent verification.

For each, Verité recommends specific actions for the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and private sector companies, as well as for the role civil society organizations can play to support the efforts of government and business to identify, address, and prevent forced labor risk. Guidance is also provided on development of programming and suggested phasing of interventions.
For more information on Verité’s work in cocoa, email

[1] de Buhr, E & Gordon, E. Bitter sweets: prevalence of forced labour and child labour in the cocoa sectors of
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Tulane University & Walk Free Foundation. 2018.
[2] de Buhr, E & Gordon, E. Bitter sweets: prevalence of forced labour and child labour in the cocoa sectors of
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Tulane University & Walk Free Foundation. 2018.
[3] International Labour Organization (ILO), Forced Labour Convention, C29, 28 June 1930, C29, International Labour Organization (ILO), 2012. Hard to see, harder to count – Survey guidelines to estimate forced labour of adults and children.–en/index.htm.

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