April 19, 2011

The Cacao Story Continues

In February 2008, I was moved by the investigative journalism of Christian Parenti, of The Nation surrounding child labor in Cote d'Ivoire.  I did this blogpost at the time after further research into this disturbing issue. 

As the Ivory Coast and other African and Arab nations now fall into civil war and political/cultural disruption, this issue has not yet been addressed and conditions for the children have not changed, now worsened by child trafficking from other African nations into Cote d'Ivoire specifically as slaves to harvest the cacao.

This documentary video produced by Helle Faber of Denmark from last year is evidence that the conditions for children in the region are worsening. 

Posted by Blogmistress on April 19, 2011 in Current Affairs, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Human Rights, Trade Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 05, 2008

Struggles of Honest Aromatic Crops Businessmen in Afghanistan

image Yesterday's 'Morning Edition' on NPR featured an heroic effort in the hills of Afghanistan by Shafiq Azizi and his business partners to grow and extract roses and other aromatics as an alternative for the poppy growers who trade in the world-wide heroin industry.  Hoping to set an example, they have expended frustrated efforts and a considerable sum of invested money.  Sounds idyllic, however, Shafiq  and Barnett Rubin (an Afghanistan expert and owner of the company that supports Azizi's efforts) are finding the prospect of legal business in Afghanistan is not so attractive to those already engaged in growing poppies.  Also, the corrupt Afghanistan government is hindering any progress or growth of the rose production for perfumery by soliciting bribes and unduly hindering their operations.  An initial $29,000 investment funded the first rose fields and the building of a commercial still, but major setbacks have the investors backing out.  Hopefully, local entrepreneur Abdullah Arsallah's determination to break the cycle of the drug business, and the willingness of a farmer in a nearby village, Haji Ibrahim, will revive the effort. You can read this complete report by Ivan Watson and view video.  We will attempt to keep an eye on this situation and report further progress.       

Posted by Marcia on June 5, 2008 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Human Rights, Oil Crops, Perfumery, Trade Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy and sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people. We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. the rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The waters murmur is the voice of my fathers' father. The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother. If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So, if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers. Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, his is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone? Where will the Eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. When the last red man has vanished with his wilderness and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left? We love this earth as a newborn loves its mothers heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children and love it, as God loves us all. As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he red man or white man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."

      -Chief Seattle

The nature Conservancy Earth Day Ideas
Take action for climate crisis solutions at we
Recycle old computers, cell phones and other electronics
Earth Day official events and activities
Professional advice for business sustainability initiative
Earth Day Facts from Rochester, NY plus more links
Make every day Earth Day from Madison, Wisconsin
Adverse effects of palm oil by Dove from Greenpeace
We can do it! from Sierra Club
The Rainforest Initiative
Whitefeather Forest Initiative
The African Conservation Foundaton
Long list of intragovernmental, governmental and private (NGO) environmental orgs

That ought to keep us busy.

Happy Earth Day! from all of us at the aromaconnection group blog.  

Posted by Marcia on April 22, 2008 in Conservation, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Events, Human Rights, Organizations, Politics, Regulatory Issues, Research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 | Comments (4) | TrackBack