Cocoa slave plantations in Ivory Coast.Last night I read your first chapter on the effective economic slavery of Children (and Adults) on remote cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. This was a powerful, moving account. Personally, I found it penetrated my brain (and heart) better than the TV documentary on the same subject you made a couple of years ago; or, possibly, the reinforcement of the written word to the previously seen images had a cumulative effect. It was depressing for me, and engendered bitter reflections on the appalling inequalities and injustices underlying the apparently smooth, civilized surface of our life in England. It also sparked feelings of anger, and consequently a wish to effect change.
As it happens, I was recently reading about the certification of forest products, and pondering this question yesterday, as I applied teak oil to a garden chair of dubious South East Asian origin. So your point about insisting on the certification of the origin of cocoa is perfectly valid, and probably one of the ways forward. I’ll see what I can do at this end. I don’t want to get into big picture theorizing about capitalism, free markets and so forth at this stage – though I think that is a very worthwhile discussion to have again later.
But I want to comment a little on the ‘Washington consensus’ free-market fundamentalists: The ‘Washington Consensus’ refers to the nexus of free-market ideas centred in Washington at places like the World Bank, the IMF and the US government. They are appalling theorisers in ivory tower conditions, working from fundamentalist ideas, instead of the empirical reality which you so bravely picked out. In my corner of the financial markets, where I worked (on and off) from 1982 to 1994, I was always suspicious and somewhat contemptuous of these ‘bureaucrat bankers’ with plush jobs, flying around the world first class. That attitude has been nuanced but also reinforced by contact with some of these ‘Supranational’ institutions since – for instance, I went to the Ivory Coast myself in 1997, and worked at the African Development Bank for two weeks. I think many of their ideas are wrong, and destructive in the wrong context.Those fundamentalist free-market ideas are muddled, contradictory and even hypocritical, as exemplified by the Argentine economic debacle, as I tried to explain. Actually, the ideas are probably hostage to previous events, the aims of their sponsors (Western Governments) and organisational inertia. How can they insist that an African country throws open its markets, while subsidies and tariffs protect farmers and industries in the EU, USA, Japan etc..?
How can they have the sheer stupidity to apply the free market philosophy of a New York dealing room to an impoverished farmer, with only one buyer, who arrives from time to time down the pot-holed roads of the Ivory Coast jungle? How can they advocate free markets in one context, yet insist that Argentina fix its currency to the US Dollar?
Not only is it bad thinking, but it is bad ethics.Someone (or rather, a large group of people) need to agitate for change, and I congratulate you on throwing a little light on this specific appalling situation. Keep up the good work! As a hasty first ‘wish list’ I would suggest:-
Certification of cocoa origin on consumer products-
Pressure on food companies to devote time, money etc to bettering the lives of farmers at the root of their supply chain- Involving: Medical facilities, Schools and Water services in villages-
Direct investment in improving the supply chain, such as metalled roads and intermediate storage facilities-
Abolition of import duties on processed cocoa products into developed countries
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