Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Dark Chocolate

on February 15, 2011

This week’s theme is love. If I chose to write about my love life, it would be the shortest blog post ever: Met a boy as a freshman in college, dated boy, married same boy 10 years later. Began our happy ever after. The end.

Instead, I wanted to talk about a symbol of Valentine’s Day and affection: chocolate. Allow me to step up to my soapbox.

You may not know, but Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is the largest cocoa producer in the world. If you received chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or if you ran to the store this morning to scoop up all the candy while it was on clearance, chances are the cocoa used to produce the chocolate came from Côte d’Ivoire. Once all the protests in Egypt started firing up over the last two weeks, all other international news sort of fell by the wayside, so I would understand if you weren’t up to date on what’s been going on in Côte d’Ivoire. In November, the country held presidential elections. The country’s election officials and international observers were in agreement that the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo (pronounced with the first “G” silent) lost. Gbagbo has been ruling the country since 2000. During that time, a civil war broke out that cost thousands of lives and turned the formerly stable country upside down. The economy, still fragile from the war, is tanking fast and the crackdown from Gbagbo as he clings to power is causing a wave of refugees to cross the border in Liberia, which is struggling to recover from its own civil war. No political end is in sight as both Gbagbo and his challenger, Alassane Ouattara claim victory.

In addition to this recent strife, it’s important to realize how your chocolate gets to you. Harvesting cocoa beans is hard, manual labor, and the laborers who work the land are paid little. Often, those harvesting the beans are children, forced to work to support their families rather than go to school. In other cases, they were trafficked from their homes and work as slaves. These kids face backbreaking labor every day and are at risk of getting hurt or killed as they swing their machetes to cut down the cocoa beans.

I don’t mean to depress you or make you feel guilty for enjoying your chocolate. But I think the least we can do as we’re enjoying our sweets and celebrating this festival of love is to think about the people who make Valentine’s Day as we know it possible, and think about what they’re going through. I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

More information:

Q&A: Ivory Coast election crisis from the BBC

Children in Cocoa Production – I wanted to use something a bit more scholarly than Wikipedia, but this gives a good overview of the problem and provides additional resources if you want to explore the issue further.

Côte d’Ivoire – Just a good primer on the country from the CIA World Factbook.


One response to “Dark Chocolate

  1. ip says:

    The protest are spreading across the Middle East. People are getting restless. This story should get interesting

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