Friday, 21 January 2011

Chocolate Guilt: Conflict Cocoa and the Ivory Coast

It’s mid-January and by now you are probably either finishing off the humungous box of chocolates you bought or were given over Christmas; or have started the diet or exercise to shed the pounds gained by scoffing them all. Maybe you now feel a pang of guilt for devouring all those calories? Or possibly you are one of the lucky ones who haven’t put on a pound over Christmas?

We all know how too much chocolate can be bad for you, but a little bit in moderation is okay isn’t it? Well maybe not as it happens, there is another chocolate guilt-trip in town and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years you’ve probably heard of conflict diamonds. Whether it’s seeing Leonardo DiCaprio in the film ‘Blood Diamond’, or hearing about Naomi Campbell’s attendance at the war crimes trial of Charles Kennedy, most of us now understand the link between diamonds and war-torn countries and will hopefully choose wisely, if and when purchasing one. But can the same be said of chocolate, or more specifically cocoa?

The Ivory Coast, in West Africa, is the world's largest producer of cocoa, producing between 35 and 45 percent of the source of the delicous brown stuff we consume so much of here in the western world. It is also a country facing yet another civil war, only eight years after the bloody conflict that led to the country effectively being split into North and South. 

In November 2010 the country held presidential elections, which many hoped would finally begin to heal the wounds of the 2002 war and reunite the largely Muslim North and the Christian South. The initial election results showed Allesane Outtara, a candidate from the North, to be the victor. But after the authorities cancelled the votes of thousands of people from the North, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo reinstated himself as president.

Incumbent: Laurent Gbagbo
Election Victor: Allesane Outtara

The resulting unrest caused by the election results has now turned to bloodshed, with reports of Gbagbo's army murdering hundreds of Outtara's supporters. The United Nations has been stepping up its efforts to bring peace to the troubled country, fearing that genocide and ethnic cleansing will occur. It is sending additional peacekeepers to the country and putting pressure on Gbagbo to step down. 

A significant amount of the financing for the conflict has come from the sale of cocoa the country produces, meaning that of the millions of pounds we spend on chocolate each day some of it is likely to be paying for the bloodshed in the Ivory Coast. So what can we do about it?

The Key: Chocolate Companies

Avaaz, the global campaigning organisation, with a membership of over 6.5 million people is currently running a campaign to encourage people to write to the CEO's of the mulitnational chocolate companies, such as Nestle, Mars and Hershey's to demand that they don't do business with Gbagbo. Without income from cocoa sales, Gbagbo and his army will be powerless. 
An email sent out to Avaarz members states, "it is crucial that the international community escalate pressure, but at this critical time if they act fast, cocoa companies could hold the key to removing Gbagbo's illegitimate regime."

So next time you are about to purchase that innocent looking chocolate bar, remember... a moment on the lips, possible bloodshed in the Ivory Coast... and a lifetime on the hips.

Mr Musing
What do you think?

1 comment:

Darren Ingram said...

I have just realised, thanks to that Nestle have so far refused to take part in a ban on doing business with Laurent Gbagbo in purchasing cocoa.

This is outrageous! Nestle obviously do not care about anything other than their profits! I for one will be boycotting them and so are others it seems. I came across this campaign on Facebook by a group of Southampton University Students...

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