Valentine's Day is around the corner. One of the ways in our consumer society we are encouraged to show our love is through buying chocolate. But is it true love on the other end?
Would it break our hearts to know that chocolate triggers civil war and trafficking in children?
A documentary film, Nothing Like Chocolate, by UCSB Sociologist Kum-Kum Bhavnani, asks us these questions.
The film notes that at least 43 percent of the world's chocolate supply comes from Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), documenting the violence behind its harvest, including civil war and the trafficking of coerced child labor. The irony is not lost on many when considering the role that the transatlantic slave trade -- servicing "the West's" insatiable demand for sugar -- played in the economy of what was to become the Ivory Coast.
Nothing Like Chocolate also notes the growing consolidation of the industry, where giant translational agribusiness corporations like Nestle or Hershey's respond to challenges from the boutique industry by buying them up, such as Hershey's acquiring Scharffen Berger. (I should note that according to Richard Robbins' The Culture of Global Capitalism, M&M/Mars Inc. is still family owned, and pay their workers a living wage.)
Not content to just providing a critique, a trap that we academics tend to fall into too often (myself included), Nothing Like Chocolate highlights an alternative in the Grenada Chocolate Company. According to the film's website:
"Within 5 years, the co-operative was producing 9 to 10 tons of local organic chocolate. Nothing Like Chocolate looks at this revolutionary experiment, focusing on how solar power, appropriate technology and activism merge to create a business whose values are fairness, community, sustainability and high quality."
Nothing Like Chocolate profiles the co-founder of Grenada Chocolate Company, Mott Green, who died in a freak accident on June 1 of last year, and Nelice Stewart, a peasant producer who made her livelihood in the commodities trade before connecting with the Grenada Chocolate Company. Green and Stewart couldn't be more different: the former a self-described radical anarchist from New York, and the latter a devout Pentecostal woman from rural Caribbean.
The film details the struggles and victories of this small, upstart company. When she signed with the Grenada Chocolate Company, Stewart more than doubled her income, which allowed her to buy her house. Green and his associates struggled to find a niche for the non-exploitative, 100 percent organic finished product. They aren't certified Fair Trade -- the film briefly discusses why, that this certification costs the producers and thus presents a barrier.
The film was screened in Grenada at last year's Caribbean Studies Association, 30 years after the CIA-fomented coup ripped the country apart. Many in the mostly local audience were in tears at points in the film, which also touched upon this history of the 1983 U.S. invasion. The Cold War justification aside, a primary motivation for the Reagan administration was Prime Minister Maurice Bishop's assertion of an autonomous economic model that reinforced local production. As other documentaries like Stephanie Black's Life and Debt detail, the region's economy was destroyed after independence (the British held onto their "crown colonies" until the 1960s) through what used to be called "structural adjustment programs."
Now, the region's economy is dominated by tourism, which Esther Figueroa and Diana McCaulay's film Jamaica for Saledramatically highlights is not sustainable either economically or environmentally. But such is the slot that we in the U.S. and other powerful countries have allowed the Caribbean to develop, in addition to cheap labor to sew our clothes.
Companies that dare to engage the world economy as equals, such as the Grenada Chocolate Company, where the "value added" trickles down and not up, provide hope for development in the Caribbean, whose leaders have formally called upon reparations for slavery. A policy of reparations aims at directly addressing the imbalance in wealth triggered by slavery by asking that the profits amassed by corporations (and, in the case of Anglophone Caribbean, the British Crown) be shared with the descendants of slaves. CSA keynote speaker Hilary Beckles' new book Britain's Black Debt details the case for reparation, building on Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Eric Williams' Capitalism and Slavery.
"I started work on this film after reading an article about children being enslaved to harvest cocoa in West Africa. I teach about Third World issues, so I know the situation emerges from the complicated relationships among farmers, chocolate manufacturers and governments. Farmers receive a low price for their beans. In order to live even at subsistence level, they have to draw on a large pool of labor, which includes children who can be trafficked for this work. I felt more people ought to know about this and, equally importantly, that there are projects that show how things can be done differently."
Alternatives like the Grenada Chocolate Company can provide hope for true development, and they represent true love, for humankind and a just future.
Mark Schuller is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d'Ethnologie, l'Université d'État d'Haïti. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, Schuller's research on globalization, NGOs, gender, and disasters in Haiti has been published in two dozen book chapters and peer-reviewed articles as well as public media. He is the author of Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs (2012) and co-editor of three volumes, including Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake (2012). He is co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009). Schuller is co-editor of Berghahn Books' Catastrophes in Context: a Series in Engaged Social Science on Disasters, board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, and active in several solidarity efforts.