Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Children are more important than chocolate

It sounds like a good news story, doesn’t it? Nestle is really helping Ivory Coast by distributing saplings that will grow into disease-resistant cocoa trees. This will greatly boost productivity and improve the quality of the cocoa beans. But is this really a good news story? What about the quality of life for the 200,000 children who labour in the cocoa jungles of Ivory Coast? What about the child slaves trafficked from Burkino Faso and Mali included in that number? Why isn’t Nestle doing something to help these children? They could’ve linked the distribution of these new cocoa trees to programs that are working to eliminate child slavery and end the worst forms of child labour.

The good news story is actually happening in Cameroon, the fourth largest cocoa-producing country. Companies like Mars and Cadbury have been impressed by research that shows that farmers in Cameroon cultivate cocoa trees in a more sustainable way that essentially preserves and renews the rainforest.Cargill trains Cameroon cocoa farmers This is in great contrast to the monoculture cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast where the rainforest is being razed and then with time the cocoa trees are becoming less productive. What impresses me even more is that Cameroon does not have the same high rate of child labour that keeps children from attending school nor is the country known for the same extensive practice of child trafficking and slavery. Martin Gilmour, UK-based cocoa research manager for Mars, says, “We would like to see farmers get higher prices for their cocoa. It would be better for both of us.” And it would help to eliminate the so-called “need” for child labour. So Cargill, a big cocoa purchaser and bulk chocolate producer for companies like Cadbury and Mars, is rolling out its UTZ certification farmer training programme in Cameroon which should dramatically boost their sustainable cocoa output. This UTZ certification means working with the ILO to eliminate the worst forms of child labour which includes slavery and denial of schooling. Thus, Cameroon is already in a better position than Ivory Coast when it comes to child labour and now the chocolate companies are seeing the benefit of investing in Cameroon’s cocoa production in a way that will go further to eliminating the worst forms of child labour and improving sustainability. Excellent! Now why wasn’t this good news story broadcast on TV?Hersheys Smores

Finally, summer time makes is a great time to tell Hershey’s that we want more from our S’mores! That’s right, we want fair trade chocolate in our S’mores. Hershey’s Chocolate made S’mores to be the popular treat they are, but they don’t produce any fair trade chocolate bars. As a chocolate company they continue to show a resistance to doing anything about the serious child labour and slavery problem in West Africa. I mentioned above that Mars and Cadbury are speaking up and Cargill is listening, but Hershey remains silent. Raise the Bar, Hershey is an excellent website giving many practical ways for us to get involved in the fight against child slavery and abusive child labour in West Africa.

Raise The Bar


P.S. It’s hard to ever truly find a good news story when it comes to cocoa coming from West Africa. The sources I cited above may have not been entirely accurate in their assessment of child labour in Cameroon’s cocoa industry. This episode of the BBC World TV series "Survivors Guide" looks at the ILO’s project in Cameroon. Sobering, to say the least.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why the world needs Superman

Superman responds to US criticism -- you'll have to buy Action Comics 900 to find out what happend in Iran as he was flying awaySuperman renounced his U.S. citizenship! Fox News got all upset and Mike Huckabee was disturbed last month when Action Comics #900 was released. I just had to get my own copy of this comic — no small feat as the publicity caused it to sell out fast everywhere. In spite of the media frenzy, the comic book story wasn’t really about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship. (Mike Huckabee who was so disturbed by this notion had not even bothered to read the comic before condemning it.) The story was more about the limitations of a superhero and how little Superman could actually do during the protests of the Arab Spring. Superman chose to stand with a large group of peaceful, non-resistant protesters demonstrating in Iran. He admitted this was a problem he couldn’t solve with his superpowers, but he could show his support and he did by standing with them — an action which landed Superman in trouble with the U.S. government. (Since Fox News doesn’t want him, we’ll glady give Superman Canadian citizenship. After all his Fortress of Solitude has always been in the Canadian Arctic.)

June, as it turns out, was quite the month for the iconic superhero. It saw the 10-year series finale of Smallville, the show all about the coming of age of Superman (Clark Kent). After watching it, a good friend of mine said, “It was pretty good even though I never watched Smallville before. They built up the anticipation and made you want to see Superman fly.” Humoured, I replied, “The anticipation you experienced in those two hours, I’ve been experiencing over the last 10 years! They definitely built up the anticipation. I’ve been watching and waiting for 10 years now to see the blue suit, the red cape, the first flight and the emergence of Superman.”

Action Comics #900 (and other Superman comics too), the TV series Smallville and even the song “Superman (It’s not easy)” by Five for Fighting are examples of the postmodern revision of Superman. In these last few years, we’ve learned that behind the legend and the cape, there is suffering — a vulnerable hero, sometimes unsure of himself, lonely and insecure, hurting but hoping. And we had thought he was almost a god, invincible and invulnerable, a superhuman alien, the last son of Krypton. Tom Welling in Smallville and Brandon Routh in Superman Returns have revealed this more human, more sympathetic, and more vulnerable side of Superman. In the 2006 movie Superman almost dies, sacrificing himself to save the earth. This whole new way of understanding Superman’s limitations and his “humanness” may have begun in the remarkable 1992 comic “The Death of Superman.”

Superman-then-and-nowThis revision of Superman really does make sense. When I think back to my childhood dream of becoming Superman and being able to defeat every foe and solve every problem while never being hurt by anyone nor feeling any of this world’s pain, I realize now that wasn’t quite realistic. Seriously, how could a hero, a true hero, be untouched and uninvolved in this world’s suffering? To be a hero these days, Superman must push himself through constant trials, experience pain, and be willing to sacrifice himself. Contrast the Brandon Routh Superman of Superman Returns (2006) who struggles intensely and must use every ounce of his ingenuity, strength and speed to save a passenger jet spinning out of control — contrast him with the Christopher Reeve Superman of the original Superman movie (1978) who effortlessly rescued Air Force One by subbing in for an engine. This new young hero raised in Smallville who goes through trials and struggles to become Superman is truly a superhero.

What 9/11 taught us about heroes is that they sacrifice themselves to save others, they put themselves in harm’s way, they suffer and more often than we realized, they die in the line of duty. In Canada, the Highway of Heroes is the road travelled when fallen soldiers are returned from Afghanistan. People line the way, standing with firefighters and other emergency workers to pay tribute to our military heroes. Christians ought to pay close attention to this redefinition of “heroes” and revision of Superman. After all, we follow a Saviour who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Yet the church is still caught up in the modern era triumphalism that produced the invincible and invulnerable Superman. Whey else would we think it odd when we as Christians are touched by and involved in this world’s suffering? Why do we question the goodness of God when a young father is diagnosed with terminal cancer? Why do we as Christians believe that we should feel no pain and be healed from all diseases? Why are we so prone to insist that God should intervene at every turn and save us from harm? (Really listen to our group prayers! See what we really believe.) We don’t expect a fellow believer to land a lousy job and be underpaid or to suffer from depression or to be unable to save their marriage. Why do we protest so loudly when the way is hard and the path uncertain? Isn’t it true that the church today celebrates success, wealth and victory? Triumph to triumph!

Perhaps we’ve gotten our heroes of the faith all wrong by worshipping success. Maybe this isn’t God’s way of changing the world. Isn’t it just possible that the heroes God calls us to be in this world will struggle and be unsure at times, be vulnerable and caught up in this misery of this world, perhaps find themselves alone, hurting yet hoping. I suspect these are exactly the kind of heroes God is using to change the world. Consider again the Beatitudes, that list of what God rewards. As Christians, aren’t we called to follow the way of our real Superhero, Jesus?

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Superhero and Perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NIV but improved)

Here’s the reason I wrote this article on today’s Superman: We need a better way to translate the Greek word αρχηγος (archagos) which is used to describe Jesus four times in the New Testament (The verse above, Hebrews 12:2, and 2:10; Acts 3:15, 5:31). Our typical translations like “author” and “pioneer” fall way short of the powerful meaning packed in the Greek word αρχηγος. Though they get at some aspect of the meaning, I don’t think terms like this say enough. The mighty Hercules, really the ancient Greek version of Superman, the half-human and half-divine hero, was called both αρχηγος and saviour — superhero and saviour. These are exactly the Greek terms used of Jesus in Acts 5:31! Anyone familiar with the legend of Hercules wouldn’t imagine calling him an “author” or a “pioneer,”becoming Superman certainly not a “prince”—such words do not do him justice. Nor do I think that such weak translations of αρχηγος, though they convey some element of truth, are adequate translations of this title when applied to Jesus. It would be much better to capitalize on today’s understanding of what makes a hero and proclaim Jesus to be our Superhero and Saviour (rather than “Prince and Saviour” as in the NIV of Acts 5:31). He is the one who can show us how to make a difference in this world.

When I read what Hebrews 2:10-18 says about Jesus, I see a hero who shared in our humanity, suffered in his flesh and sacrificed himself for us. Through the trials, temptations and suffering, he proved himself faithful. Because of what he experienced, Jesus is merciful toward us, ready to help us, able to make us like himself, faithful to the end. This Superhero saves us, inspires us and is transforming us to be like himself in this world. It may not be easy, but these are the heroes the world needs to see emerging from the church today, real heroes who will make a difference.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Canada’s Ganong chocolate factory expands: bittersweet news

In late June, Ganong Bros. Ltd, Canada’s oldest chocolate factory, announced a $10 million expansion that will increase the size of their factory by 10%, add 30-40 jobs and allow them to potentially increase their sales volume by 25%. This was made possible in part by $5 million in loans from the province and the federal government, but it seems to me this “good” news is actually “bittersweet” at best.

chocolate New BrunswickAt the June 24 announcement, Premier David Alward said, “This is a very positive day for Charlotte County, for St. Stephen and more importantly for New Brunswick.” It seems the premier was assuming the 30-40 news jobs would be going to people in St. Stephen and Charlotte County, but at this same event David Ganong, chair of the board, made clear they would outsource the jobs if they could not find qualified New Brunswickers. They’ve previously hired dozens of foreign workers. New Brunswick’s unemployment is at 9.5% and with the province now putting $3 million toward this new expansion, you would think asking Ganong Bros. to guarantee that jobs would go to New Brunswickers, even if training was required, would’ve been smart. So the news is not as good as it could have been.

Ganong Bros chocolateThe federal government, through the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency, put $2 million toward the expansion at the St. Stephen factory which is happening in part because Ganong Bros. landed a long-term contract with a major international customer, with the details still being top secret. This introduces international trade issues which no one spoke about at the announcement.

Ganong Bros. makes a variety of chocolate and candy confections, but they do not source their own cocoa beans or even make their own chocolate. They purchase bulk chocolate which is melted and used to create the fine chocolate treats Canadians have enjoyed from Ganong for 138 years now, including Delecto assorted chocolates and Chicken Bones. It’s common practice, nearly ever chocolatier in Canada uses bulk chocolate. No one wants to talk about the serious ethical issues involved in the purchase and resale of bulk chocolate, but the federal government ought to take a stand.

Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana supply about 67% of the world’s chocolate, but it is increasingly coming to light that both countries have children labouring in the cocoa jungles. In many cases, children do not go to school, but instead work long hard days doing work far too dangerous for them.bitter truth CBC Reporter Carol Off investigated the dark side of the cocoa industry in her book Bitter Chocolate and the BBC Panorama documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth backed up her findings and presented more evidence. What is this bitter truth? The children who labour so hard to produce the cocoa never taste the Ganong chocolates or any other chocolate for that matter. Not only are children forced to work, but the desperately poor cocoa farmers have also resorted to trafficking children from other West African countries and putting them to work as slaves. We know this is happening and, yet, to date, Canada has done nothing about it, continuing to import the West African cocoa beans and doing nothing to discourage the practice of child labour and child slavery.

We can’t pretend this investment from our federal government at Ganong Bros. is not a failure to do something to help change the plight of the children of West Africa. Why couldn’t the federal government, for example, have made their investment contingent on Ganong Bros. committing to making 25% of their chocolate products from Fair Trade chocolate (which improves the working conditions for children, gets them into school, and eliminates slavery). How long will Canadians be content to happily eat chocolate produced from cocoa harvested by child labourers and child slaves?

Stop chocolate child slaveryJesus said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did not do for me” (Matt 23:45). Don’t we have a moral obligation to work against slavery, especially to end child trafficking and slavery? Or should we just go one indulging in our Ganong chocolate truffles pretending that we’re not contributing to the forced labour of children in West Africa? Can we treat our kids with Kit Kats and Snickers while ignoring the plight of the children who produce the cocoa but never taste the chocolate? I can’t do it anymore. And I would like to see Canada do something about it. I’m writing to the New Brunswick premier, the federal minister responsible for ACOA and others; I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I was going to post the fourth and final installment of the documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth, just in case you have not finished viewing it as I have previously posted the first three parts. Unfortunately, the high quality youtube video I had previously posted is no longer available. I’ll post this video which is part 4 of 5. You can click on the youtube button to find the fifth part. Listen carefully, it’s alarming.


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