The Dark Side of Chocolate (Part 2)

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In part 2, we'll look at the real price of cheap chocolate...
Children soaked in dangerous chemicals.

Etienne Babila survived two years of hard and hazardous labor in the cocoa plantations of Southern Camaroon. At 12, he was taken out of school and put to work to feed his sick parents. Now, back at school and captain of the football team, he's been given the chance of a new life but only if he can leave his village to go to secondary school.

Oway, like most villages here, relies on cocoa. It began as a forced labor camp 100 years ago when Camaroon was a German colony. Outside each hut is a hard square for drying cocoa beans. Over the generations, the labor camp has become a community. It has its own school. Primary education is officially free in Camaroon and the health clinic. But when the price of cocoa collapsed a few years ago, so did the wages of the cocoa workers. Families were forced to sell their children to the farms.

A pioneering projects by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization has begun to document the extent of child labor. Well over a quarter of a million children in the 5 main cocoa producing countries of West Africa. 200,000 of them in Cote D'Iviore alone. Tens of thousands here in Camaroon. A quarter of child laborers are illiterate. The ILO project has also documented the dangers. Machete cuts, young bodies crippled from carrying massive loads, poisoning by pesticides. Parents and farmers are aware that the chemicals are toxic but these children are given no protective clothing, apparently no advice on how to avoid exposure to the spray. We were asked not to identify the children or the farmer they were working for.

Julius Fomboh run a development agency which has been working with the child labor project. He asks Etienne to show him the pesticides the children use.

"What is this?"
"It is Gamelin 20?"
"Do you know what Gamelin 20 is?"
"Yeah, it is used for spraying."
"Did anybody ever tell you that it was dangerous to use?"
"Yeah, my father told me that if I am using it that I should be very careful because it is poisonous."
"It is poisonous. And when you are using it, do you use anything to protect yourself to cover..."
"How old were you when you started using the Gamelin 20 spray?"
"Around 12 years to 13 years.

Gamelin 20 contains the insecticide Lindane, a potent organic chlorine. The makers say that used in accordance with their instructions, it should not cause problems. But those instructions include wearing a mask to avoid contact with the eyes and clothing to protect the skin. An overdose and cause permanent nervous damage. Children are more sensitive to its effects.

"When you use the Gamelin Spray, do you feel some itchiness in your eyes?"
"Yes. It's very stinky."
"Very stinky. When you inhale it, it's stinky. So when you do that, what do you do? When you go home, what happens?"
"Just (????)"

He mixes Gamelin with a powder, a fungicide called Ridimil. This is officially classified as moderately toxic. The makers, Advartis, say users should wear gloves, a face mask, boots, and protective clothing. Etienne has none of these nor do any of the other children we filmed spraying the trees. Julius is shocked.

"Etienne, this is very, very interesting because I've read about this, heard about this but I've never had the chance to see it happen. A small young man, a child actually, spraying, I think its surprising for me. How do you feel in doing all this?"
"It's difficult but we do it just to earn a living."
"So you are doing it just to earn a living. That's really, really, really serious."
"Have you seen other children doing this? In other farms around the area working like this?"
"Many children are doing it."
"Can we say there are up to 100?"
"100 childremn, more than 100 children in the farms doing this."

The ILO estimates that more than 152,000 children are employed spraying pesticides and Camaroon, Nigeria, and Cote D'Ivoire.