Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ivory Coast crisis: What they’re not reporting

For three months now, newly-elected Côte d'Ivoire President Ouattara has been struggling to take control of the country away from the desperate dictator-like ex-president Gbagbo who is defiantly ignoring election results, consolidating power and attempting to stay in control. Only now that President Ouattara has almost succeeding in ousting Gbagbo are we beginning to see any substantial coverage in the news. The United Nations confirmed the election results and they have 10,000 troops on the ground to try to minimize the toll of the conflict. The French also sent in soldiers. The European Union, the United States and much of the international community has accepted Ouattara and not Gbagbo as president. The fighting has been intense, but slowly most of the Côte d'Ivoire army has switched sides to supporting Ouattara. ALL THIS and only now is the situation getting some news coverage! I’m concerned that they are not reporting the full story. Côte d'Ivoire is the world’s #1 producer of cocoa—without Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa we would not be able to enjoy chocolate as we do. What’s not being reported is the huge role that cocoa is playing in this civil war-like crisis. Take for example the first serious coverage I saw on CBC News on April 5, or this video from ABC News (turns out it’s Australia, not America!).

No mention of cocoa even though President Ouattara called for a cocoa embargo in order to deprive Gbagbo of the funds he needs to pay the military who are keeping him in power. You see, taxes on cocoa farmers, export taxes (from north to south) and corruption in government obtaining most of the profits from cocoa sales is how military conflict has been financed in Côte d'Ivoire for over a decade now. The EU and US have heed the call not purchase cocoa, a ban came into force in January 2011. Only last week did I hear any mention in mainstream news about this chocolate embargo and that was because Hershey’s announced their wholesale prices would be going up by 10%. It’s mostly just in the financial news that I have found any mention of this embargo, but even then they’re not reporting the whole story!

What no one is reporting is how the government has impoverished the cocoa farmers who do not make a fair wage for their labour. The horrendous result has been the widespread use of cocoa farmers’ children to work on the family farms. When they could not get by even then, cocoa farmers began to buy children and traffic child slaves from Burkino Faso and other desperately poor areas. 200,000 children work in the cocoa jungles of Côte d'Ivoire and about 15,000 of them are trafficked slaves. Children are used “to clear land for the planting of cocoa trees, and for weeding and harvesting crops. The boys and girls, many as young as seven, are unpaid or paid very little,” according to Asad Ismi writing for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor (Feb 2011). Citing a Channel Four documentary from England, Ismi says, “90% of the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast use child slave labourers, whose hellish working conditions include 20-hour work days, malnutrition, torture, sexual abuse, and exposure to toxic chemicals.” You don’t see this reported very much in the news, but it’s all been well-documented for at least a decade now, if not longer. [Here on this blog, see my first chocolate post "Giving up chocolate for Lent, maybe for life" by Ken Symes.]

As a Christian practising Lent, this year I gave up chocolate so that I could think and pray about this bitter truth about chocolate: children are being trafficked and enslaved to produce the cocoa needed to make the chocolate I love. So two days ago, when I saw that the National Association of Evangelicals published a press release calling for prayer for Ivory Coast, naturally I expected that they would include prayer for the 200,000 children labouring in the cocoa jungles.

“Evangelical missionaries have worked in Ivory Coast since the 1920s, planting churches and supporting schools, hospitals and other social ministries,” said NAE President Leith Anderson. “Our hearts go out to the people of Ivory Coast who desperately want peace, and especially to those who have lost loved ones in the recent fighting.” …
“Scripture calls us to pray for our leaders and all who are in authority,” Anderson said. “I am praying that President Gbagbo will step down gracefully for the good of his country and for the peace of the entire region of West Africa.”
The NAE also encourages its members to support humanitarian relief efforts to care for displaced refugees in the region.

These are good thoughts for prayer, but since we know that our Lord Jesus loves the little children of Côte d'Ivoire (Ghana, Burkino Faso and all of West Africa) and since we know that the Lord calls us to minister to the least of these, we must add to this prayer for Côte d'Ivoire. Please pray for changes in the chocolate companies and in the Côte d'Ivoire government so that they will do what is needed to end child slavery now and eliminate the worst forms of child labour now. Pray that people will come to know the bitter truth about chocolate and call on our governments stand up to the cocoa industry and legislate them to end the use of slavery and child labour. It’s not fair that children’s lives are being ruined in the Ivory Coast cocoa jungles so that our children can enjoy Kit Kats, Snickers and Smarties. [The following video is a snipit from Chocolate: The Bitter Truth.]


  1. This issue is frustrating and it can be overwhelming. I can only draw upon what our parish has done. Our parish has decided to use fair-trade coffee. It costs more, but we feel it's the right thing to do. I believe there is fair-trade chocolate. Is this enough? Or should we all give up chocolate or encourage our governments to enact trade embargos? If there was absolutely no demand for chocolate right now -- would it solve anything? Would these exploited children be better off?

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