Chocolate bars and African conficts

It doesn’t end !
I thought that I’d not be seeing the word “Mars” again now that all that debacle has gone through. But I was wrong.

A news item via the Independent Online about how the purchase of cocoa from Africa might be helping rebels fight wars in Africa:

Chocoholics may be funding war in Africa

By Claire Soares
Published: 08 June 2007

British chocoholics may have unwittingly helped fund an African conflict, with an estimated $120m (£60m) from the cocoa trade being siphoned off into war chests in Ivory Coast, according to a report released today.

“There is a high chance that your chocolate bar contains cocoa from Ivory Coast and may have funded the conflict there, which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth,” said Patrick Alley, the director of Global Witness, the London-based group behind the report.

Companies such as Nestlé and Mars source some of their cocoa from the troubled west African nation.

While much has been written about child labour on African cocoa plantations, the Global Witness report, Hot Chocolate, is the first to catalogue how cocoa has fuelled conflict on the west coast of the continent…

… Global Witness says that among the many abuses of cocoa revenues during the “no war, no peace” stand-off, about $20m was embezzled by Ivorian national cocoa institutions and diverted to the government. Another $40m were funnelled into the president’s war effort.

On the rebel side, militants extorted $30m each year from companies trucking cocoa through their half of the country – a illegal tax that “enabled them to survive as a movement”, the report says.

Campaigners want the intermediary cocoa-exporting companies to be transparent about exactly what payments they make, and want big confectioners to be upfront about where their cocoa comes from.

“The chocolate industry is so secretive about their recipes that they don’t tell you what’s in the mix,” said one of the report’s researchers, who has assumed the alias Maria Lopez. “The consumer can pressure chocolate companies to put that information on the label so they know they are buying conflict-free chocolate.”

» Full article

So another reason, if you need one, to continue to boycott any Mars/Masterfoods products.

As for Nestle and their practices – well that goes without saying.

But more about them in another post…

One thought on “Chocolate bars and African conficts

  • 14th June 2007 at 4:39 am

    So your policy towards a conflict-ridden country is to isolate it? Interesting solution.

    From my experience working in trade but never an employee or associate of Mars, the company conducts itself in an exemplary fashion in its many asian markets. Mars indicates clearly to outsiders like me which countries supply its raw and finished products so finding information like that should be no mystery to your researcher.

    Recipes are held tightly by all manufacturers whether its your mum and her traditional Christmas pudding or a massive multinational like Coca Cola. Protecting IP should not be a surprise for your researcher either.

    Secondly, a conflict-ridden and corrupt country like Ivory Coast, in my humble opinion does not need boycotts except in terms of the arms and other pernicious trade.

    All strong companies should be encouraged to trade with it and abide by the commercial laws not only there but in their own countries as well which most often tougher than those in Ivory Coast.

    It is my experience that that is essentially what Mars does despite the very shaky and corrupt regulatory state frameworks that exist in Asia today.

    But how else does a country become less corrupt if not shown a better example from outside? Along with a modern company intervening in a new market comes new systems of management such as electronic transactions, banking and legal services which if well implemented start to crowd out traditional corrupt manual and nepotistic methods of exchange that are so familiar to graft-ridden and extortion-happy countries.

    This is what is happening in Asia and it can happen in Africa. More commercial activity should be encouraged to override the war-activity that isolated, unnaccountable and unchecked regimes thrive on.

    Isolation or containment doesn’t teach good lessons, it simply entrenches the existing system.

    Chocolate is a very popular good and to me, Mars conducts itself as professionally as it can in many countries that are low on ethical behaviour but high in certain resources.

    Thus the answer for outsiders whether individuals or commercial entities is not to be counter-productive but to assist a country like Ivory Coast normalise itself by trading normally with it as best as it can.

    Normalisation will take a long time but compared with the history of conflict it will be a mere drop in the bucket of time. Liberia for example is heading slowly in the right direction and as long as its neighbours dont interfere we should start to see a normal state appear that is no longer powerless and improverished. But this cant happen without outside commercial intervention.

    Ivory Coast is a failed or fragile state that cannot lift itself out of the mire. Its own people have demonstrably failed to do this. And not because one company decided to pay for its cocoa beans.

    If it is to have any healthy interaction with the rest of the world Ivory Coast is going to have to be brought in slowly from the cold.

    I dont think the answer is a policy of isolation. Commercial isolation will keep the Ivory Coast poor, and social isolation where citizens are denied sale of their own resources and denied goods from other countries is the road to longterm state failure. North Korea is a classic example.

    Plus the Ivory Coast has a resource that the trade gorilla China does not have, giving Ivory Coast a comparative advantage in manufacturing that very, very few third world countries possess as they are steadily realising in despair right now.

    Furthermore, this resource is a highly sought-after food not a type of weapon or gold or diamonds or opium that form the not-so-good exports of other poor countries also desperate to survive. What an advantage!

    Commercial outfits are absolutely interested in profit and they will pay to keep a good source going – they do not usually bite the hands that feeds.

    One foreign company alone can never be held responsible for the appalling behaviour of a nation’s people. But, if those two elements, the modern commercial enterprise and the poorest people cannot be brought together over time then large-scale re-distribution of wealth will never happen or happen excruciatingly slowly thus manifestly failing to help the greatest number of people in the shortest time.

    You must try to be less cynical about commercial enterprises that make the “snacks” you like to eat but have to boycott, and more open-minded about what the “developing” bit of a “developing country” actually involves in the real world.

    You may not like a factory near your house but there are millions who would sorely like to receive just a single product that comes out of a factory like the one near you.


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