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February 17, 2008

Let's Talk About Free Trade in the Aromatic Industry:


Theobroma cacao

I've been mulling over the somewhat obscure issues of fair trade in our industry, however, Valentines Day presented the perfect opportunity to end my procrastination and begin a conversation here.  Rob and I start our weekday mornings with a cup of coffee and Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.  If you are not familiar with this acclaimed journalist and Harvard University graduate, she's a champion of  peace and human rights, with battle scars from her work in East Timor in 1991 where she and fellow journalist Allan Nairn were badly beaten while witnessing a mass killing of Timorese demonstrators, now known as the Dili Massacre.  Usually, on Thursdays and Fridays Democracy Now is co-hosted by another award-winning journalist, Juan Gonzales, whose work includes Ground Zero illnesses and EPA coverups after 9/11.  Amy and Juan got right to the underbelly of the chocolate industry.  While mostly concerned with the chocolate you might get for a Valentine gift, our industry cannot ignore the fact that the very same cacao is harvested for cacao oleoresin and absolute, much sought after in the perfume and cosmetic industries.  Their guests were Christian Parenti, a correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of "Chocolate's Bittersweet Economy" in the February 4th edition of Fortune and William Guyton, President of the World Cocoa Foundation,  whose members comprise some of the big corporations who basically control the ports and set the prices.  I refreshed my coffee and settled in for what promised to be an interesting and juxtaposed debate.

Parenti began with his trip to the Ivory Coast (70% of the world's cacao comes from West Africa with 40% originating in the Ivory Coast).  He cited the Harkin-Engel protocol developed after real legislation failed, with the hope of volunteer participation from chocolate and cocoa industries.   The protocol was signed by industry leaders in 2001 and laid out a series of date-specific actions to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the growing and processing of cacao beans and their derivative products, with a deadline of July 1, 2005 for reporting labor practices in cacao farming in West Africa.  The deadline was extended to July 2008 after the industry failed to reach substantial goals.   Parenti went to the Ivory Coast last October to fact check the claims of changes by the WCF and found them wanting.  He observed no substantive changes . . . "there were still many children working, using pesticides, machetes, carrying heavy loads. . . unable to attend school and being injured due to their labor."   He also cites the First Annual Report: Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child labor in the Cocoa Sector in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, prepared by Payson Center for Intentional Development and Technology Transfer/Tulane University.  This 271 page document is worth a complete read for those of you who like to follow the threads of bureaucratic intrigue.  The conclusion on page 50 summarizes the lack of attention or activity given (in spite of reams of reports from the companies, their trade organizations, NGO's and West African government officials) to the primary problem of child labor . . . "There is evidence that child labor is a problem in the cocoa supply chain and that the work of children is being used in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana in a large number of agricultural tasks and at all times of the year."

The WCF claims to have spent tens of millions of dollars to eliminate child labor.  An NGO (International Cocoa Initiative) , identified by William Guyton as providing successful benchmarks, was established and Parenti found it in Ivory Coast to consist of one employee who shared an office in a basement of a law firm.  Parenti says the many claims of successful development projects did not pan out and he could find only one orphanage where most of the kids were not from the cacao sector and cited the head of the orphanage as saying perhaps 8 children over the last several months had been from the cacao sector.  William Guyton agreed with most of the findings in the Fortune  article, however, he spent a lot of time avoiding the key issue of child labor and attempting to focus on other issues - farming techniques for productivity, environmental conditions and social/health issues like HIV-AIDS.

When asked directly if raising the prices to the farmers themselves wouldn't address the need to employ child labor, Guyton cited that these are family farms with children working with their parents, not hired from other places.  He seemed to miss the point that if the farmers could afford to hire workers, it would benefit the children and free them to attend school.  The only successful program that he might be able to tout is the Sustainable Tree Crops Program, claiming that the farmers are receiving income improvements between 25-50%.  I would ask, if this is true, then why have the conditions for children (as well as the farmers themselves) not changed and improved?

What I've come away with (from the Democracy Now presentation, Christian Parenti's investigation, The Tulane Report and my own research) is:

1.)  Although farmers have attempted to establish co-operatives in attempts to circumvent the large companies who control ports/prices and establish collective bargaining for price structure as their own middle men, they are thwarted by international companies who loan them money and then claim that their crops are inferior, paying them less than needed to pay back their loans, many falling into debt.

2.)  The Cote d'Ivoire government is corrupt and not standing up to the international cocoa firms to establish better conditions for their own citizens, farmers and children.  In some instances the co-op members are arrested, after bribes are paid by the international companies to the police. 

3.)  The world market price determined globally on commodity exchanges and cocoa prices are favorable to the big companies, at about $2500 per metric ton.  International cocoa companies joined in a successful lobby in 1999 to eliminate minimum prices for farmers.  The farmers have no say in what they receive in payment, leaving them in a slave condition. 

We will address more of these issues in the future and hope that you will join the conversation as well as pass information on.

Posted by Marcia on February 17, 2008 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Human Rights, Regulatory Issues, Trade Issues | Permalink


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Thanks for this in-depth coverage. That's why we use
organic, fair-trade cocoa and coffee only. Better for the farmers, better for the planet, better for us.

Posted by: Ien van Houten | Feb 18, 2008 7:02:43 PM

Nice information....

Posted by: Marland | Mar 10, 2008 11:17:56 PM

Good Morning!

My name is Rachel Thieme and I am writing from the anti trafficking department at the Salvation Army World Services Office in Washington DC. We are currently attempting to introduce Stop the Traffik's chocolate campaign to The Salvation Army in the United States and are putting together resources to be distributed. One resource is a pamphlet about the problem, solution, and action steps. In order to add a more personal touch we wanted to add pictures of children who are a part of this. Would it be possible to use this picture on our pamplet? .

Please write me back, and let me know if this would be okay and what citations are required. Also, if the picture is not yours could you please direct me to the correct organization. We would also appreciate if you could send us any pictures of yours that we could use.

Thank you for everything you are doing and have a wonderful day!

Rachel Thieme

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Posted by: james | Nov 20, 2008 3:28:12 AM

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