In wealthy countries, chocolate is part of daily life. We give it as the generic token of affection at Christmas. On Valentine’s Day we send it as a sign of romantic love. When we need a mood booster or something to staunch our hunger, we grab a chocolate bar.
In recent years, it’s become a staple of corporate journalism to report on the supposed health benefits of consuming chocolate, or chocolate’s alleged power as an aphrodisiac, or how it produces near-orgasmic effects on brain chemistry.
But what almost no one in the wealthy countries realises is that chocolate is not simply big flavour or even big business, but a big, gaping wound in the body of human rights. The world’s number one supplier of cocoa beans is Ivory Coast, a country whose cocoa farmers routinely employ child labourers who are paid nothing. That means they’re enslaved. These same children are often lured to be transported hundreds of kilometres from their homes. That’s human trafficking. The massive profits from cocoa exports are used by governments and militias to finance their arsenals against each other. That’s civil war.
As much a planetary killer as is Big Tobacco, its daily operation pales before the massive human rights abuse that is Big Chocolate, or what should be called Blood Chocolate.
As we’ll find out in this episode of MF GALAXY, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Some of it belongs with the farmers in Cote d’Ivoire who are enslaving children, or the militaries feasting on chocolate profits. But much if not most belongs with massive Western corporations reaping profits in the billions while operating out of cartels which manipulate global markets and commodity prices, which permanently shackle the economies of Original World nations.
To explain this story, we’ll hear from Carol Off, the acclaimed journalist and host of CBC’s As It Happens who’s author of Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.
A finalist for the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing and for the National Book Award, Bitter Chocolate is a horrifying description of the tortured history of cocoa, from its use by megalomaniacal kings in Meso-America, to its role as an economic driver in European global conquest.
We’ll discover the fascinating story of a Canadian-French journalist assassinated for investigating Big Chocolate at its production source, cocoa money laundering in New York state, and the role of the IMF and the World Bank in crushing national sovereignty by economic manipulation.
We’ll also hear about the groups fighting against Big Chocolate, and why Carol Off declares that simply buying fair trade won’t amount to a hill of beans.
Carol Off spoke with me by telephone while on the road in Ontario on April 19, 2008. We began by discussing the bizarrely utopian origins of Big Chocolate before we engage its horrifying results.
If you’re concerned about what you’re hearing, use the links below to discover how you can get involved. Make sure you call your school board trustee to say you’ll vote only for candidates who stop raising funds for their school children by enslaving school-age children in Ivory Coast.
The following links are courtesy of antislavery.org: