Photography

The children who harvest cocoa

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

“I came here to go to school,” Abou says. “I haven’t been to school for five years now.” Abou is 15 and for these past five years, he’s been working on a cocoa farm in Ivory Coast, one of his jobs is cutting open the pods to collect the cocoa beans. He is one of the 2 million children working in West Africa to supply the cocoa that ends up in some of the world’s most popular chocolate bars — those produced by Hershey, Mars and Nestlé.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Washington Post staff photographer Salwan Georges met Abou and many of his co-workers — all under of 18 — as he traveled in March to Ivory Coast, the epicenter of an epidemic of child labor that the world’s largest chocolate companies promised to eradicate nearly 20 years ago. Through his photos, he puts a face to a form of trafficking that is rarely documented so intimately.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Karim Bakary, 16, from Burkina Faso, photographed inside a hut near a cocoa farm near Bonon, Ivory Coast. “There is no money in Burkina,” Bakary said. “We came here to be able to have some money to eat.”

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A bus from Burkina Faso carrying passengers and trafficked children as young as 12 arrives at night to the city of Duekoue in Ivory Coast, where hundreds of thousands of small farms have been carved out of the forest.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A boy is seen holding his machete along the road as he heads to a cocoa farm. At least 16,000 children, and perhaps many more, are forced to work on West African cocoa farms by people other than their parents, according to estimates from a 2018 survey led by a Tulane University researcher.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A young worker cuts a cocoa pod to collect the beans.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Children from impoverished Burkina Faso take a break from working on a cocoa farm in Bonon, Ivory Coast.

About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Bakary uses his machete to cut down tall plants near Bonon, Ivory Coast. Bakary and other children are paid about 85 cents a day.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A young boy from Burkina Faso lays on the ground during a break.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Abou Ouedrago, 15, from Burkina Faso, photographed on a cocoa farm where he's working with other children near Bonon, Ivory Coast.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Abou Traore, 15, from Burkina Faso, dries sweat on his face after drinking milky white colored water on a cocoa farm. He has been working the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast since he was 10. His back hurts, and he’s hungry.

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Workers gather dried cocoa beans outside a cooperative facility after collecting them from farmers.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A street scene in the heart of Duekoue, Ivory Coast.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Fishermen watch as a cargo ship passes Port Autonome d'Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many cargo ships carrying cocoa leave the port to various destinations including the United States.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

An employee stands next to a machine at a Mars Chocolate of North America factory in Elizabethtown, Pa.

When asked this spring, representatives of some of the biggest and best-known brands — including Hershey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor.

“I’m not going to make those claims,” an executive at one of the large chocolate companies said.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Melted chocolate is seen at Mars Chocolate of North America factory.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

A bus from Burkina Faso ferrying passengers and trafficked children is seen at night.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

EDITORS NOTE: A reporter and photographer with The Washington Post spent 11 days in Ivory Coast reporting this story. Reporter Peter Whoriskey and photographer Salwan Georges traveled with a translator to three villages in the cocoa-growing region of the West African country: Bonon, Niambly and Blolequin. There, they interviewed 12 boys who gave their ages ranging from 13 to 18. The boys were working on farms harvesting cocoa, clearing brush with machetes and doing other work associated with cocoa production.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Before the interviews, Georges, through a translator, asked each boy if he agreed to be photographed and whether he consented to photographs that would identify him. Georges explained that such photos would circulate widely because The Post is available to millions of readers around the world and that may result in negative consequences for them. Most boys consented to having their faces photographed while several did not, so their photos were not published. All agreed to the use of their full names. Some of the boys interviewed remarked that they wanted their parents, who live in another country, to see their photos.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post