Death by chocolate

If you’ve been following the wars in Africa, you already know that there’s at least one other powderkeg besides Libya — Côte d’Ivoire, which is struggling with a disputed succession and roving gangs of angry young men with guns. The Nation has an excellent summary of the problems in Côte d’Ivoire, and unfortunately it’s all about chocolate. Also unfortunately, although American bombs have been involved in the Libyan conflict, Côte d’Ivoire has also been afflicted with American intervention — in this case, by the corporate power of agribusiness, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

At the moment, the world cocoa price in London is high, roughly 1,600 West African francs per kilo. But the small farmers here laugh bitterly at that figure; they are lucky if they get half of it for their sacks of beans. Cargill, ADM and a big Swiss concern, Barry Callebaut, are some of the biggest buyers; during the harvest season that ended last fall their Ivorian agents fanned out across the southern part of the country, offering much less than the world price. Then Gbagbo’s corrupt government took a big bite in “official” taxes. Finally, the small farmers paid bribes at the police roadblocks that regularly cut the highway down to the port at Abidjan.

So if you want to know what’s really causing the civil war, it’s poverty and uncertainty driven by gigantic business interests that willingly gouge every franc they can out of a country that doesn’t have the economic clout to fight back. And we contribute by supporting exploiters.

Côte d’Ivoire may seem away, and exotic. But every time those in the more prosperous parts of the world buy chocolate, we are exploiting the people who produce it. As long as we continue to tolerate this injustice, there will be no peace in Côte d’Ivoire.

Is there anything like the Fair Trade option for coffee that has also been applied to chocolate? What we need is a mechanism to bypass the corporate leviathans and invest directly in the farmers who do the work.