Sunday, May 28, 2006


Chocolate without the bitter aftertaste of blood

There are three commodity industries that are disproportionately responsible for human misery: oil, gold, and chocolate. Consider Samlanchith Chanthavong's description: Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d'Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions...A UNICEF study reports that 200,000 children are trafficked yearly in West and Central Africa. .... [T]wo countries that are especially implicated in child trafficking in the cocoa trade are Cote d'Ivoire which is the receiving country, and Mali which serves as the supplier....Estimates of the number of children forced to work as slaves on these farms are as high as 15,000.... The effect of being sold into slave labor has the obvious physical scars from the constant beatings the children receive, their inhumane living conditions, and the practical starvation that the farmers impose on them. However, the effects of slavery do not merely affect the physical well-being of the children. They also suffer from emotional scars. Psychologists say that children subjected to slave labor are irrevocably changed....Cote d'Ivoire exports 43% of the cocoa beans used to make the world's chocolate. Now, an agreement was reached to help end these abusive practices. But consider the following piece by Andrew Purvis Belize chocolate growers were faced with a disastrous situation created by top-down do-gooderism: [T]he price meltdown - and the landowner's fate - had been precipitated by the British government and USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), which in the 1980s hatched a plan to boost the fortunes of Toledo's cacao growers by providing bank loans for seed and agrochemicals. Communal reservation land was broken up so the deeds for plots could be used as collateral; forest was cleared and saplings planted less than 10ft apart - too narrow for shade trees to grow. The resulting diseases could be controlled only with fungicides, sold to farmers at a price. Instead of providing cacao varieties familiar to these subsistence farmers for centuries, the aid workers gave them alien hybrid seed. Meanwhile, Hershey - the US confectionery giant - pledged to buy all the cacao 'at a fair price'. In 1992, the aid workers left and Hershey's agent progressively lowered the price, leaving farmers struggling to pay off huge debts. Many abandoned their farms to work as migrant orange pickers, sugar-cane cutters and shrimp farmers in the north, simply to service their loans and support their poverty-stricken families back home. This part of the right's critique is correct. Top down aid often creates disastrous effects. But consider what happens when someone who is genuinely interested in the local community, in this case Craig Sams of Green & Blacks chocolate: These days, 70 per cent of children in the outlying Maya villages benefit from secondary education in Punta Gorda, compared to 10 per cent before Green & Black's. Women, who are expert at fermenting and drying beans, have been empowered; villagers who used to live in rudimentary huts now have wooden bungalows with concrete floors; and the Maya - who comprise many, but not all, of the TCGA's members - find themselves with a new status and a new voice. And it's not some hippie dream. Green & Blacks was acquired by Cadbury's. I somehow think they not only intend to make, but are already making money off of this. Bill Clinton talked of the virtuous circle, in which doing good goes around to do more good. Green & Black's has created one that brings in Mayan Indians and American chocolate lovers. Next, may we hope for oil that doesn't smell of Haditha.
And Green & Black's is truly delicious stuff. Their dark chocolate in particular.

Also, you might want to check out Equal Exchange, which has been working with farmers to provide fairly-traded coffee, chocolate, cocoa, tea and other goods since 1986. Like G&B's, this is chocolate that you can eat with a clear conscience. (Well, aside from worrying about how much weight you're gaining.)
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