Remember the movie Blood Diamond. I most definitely do. When it came out I was doing a Master's degree in African History, and suddenly everyone and their mother was trying to tell me about the recent history of Sierra Leone. For me it was hilarious, people acting like this was news. Anyone who reads knew about Conflict Diamonds long before the movie appeared in box offices nationwide. What is somewhat astonishing is the effectiveness of a threatened boycott in pushing De Beers and the diamond industry as a whole to address the issue by instituting the Kimberly Process.
Not that the Kimberly Process is not vulnerable to exploitation, it is only astonishing to me that a major corporation would make even superficial concessions with just the threat of a boycott. Remember, even if the stone is non-conflict, buy purchasing it you have created demand and therefore contributed to keeping the price high. By doing so you contribute to demand for all diamonds, including conflict stones. All diamonds are blood diamonds, just ask the victims of Apartheid in South Africa, a system built on diamonds in Kimberly and gold in the Witwatersrand.
Of course this is America, and black Africans be damned, we want our diamonds, gold, bauxite, oil,cobalt, copper, and whatever resources that may fuel conflict on the African conflict. When it comes down to it, for all our moral posturing, we would rather have bling and cheap gasoline than save African lives. But for a continent that still suffers from long lasting conflicts in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Northern Uganda, Darfur, Chad, and Nigeria just to name a few, the scourge of materialism at all costs only promises to continue. The two fomenting conflicts in Africa currently, a looming civil war in the Sudan with oil at the crux of it, and a civil war in Cote D'Ivoire over a disputed election, both promise to raise questions about resource extraction and conflict.
But back to my point. Blood Chocolate. Think I am crazy? Well lets look at the facts. Cote D'Ivoire produces forty percent of the world's cacoa, a key ingredient in chocolate. It is the main export and cash crop of the West African nation and has been a pillar in a relatively prosperous country in the region. More importantly the crop is produced by mostly small farmers there, which translates into a more equal distribution of wealth in the countr as compared to its neighbors, attracting migrant workers from neighboring states that are much less prosperous in comparison. Not that farmers in Cote D'Ivoire recieve decent prices for their produce when taking the commodity price on the New York or London exchanges into account, but it is better than most situations in African nations.
The last election is contested. It is clear that Laurent Gbagbo lost the election to Alassane Ouattar, despite attempts to rig the polls.However, despite pressure for the international comunity and the regional force ECOWAS, Gbagbo refuses to give up power. ECOWAS has a bad track record of quelling conflict, the best example being Seirra Leone. The AU can't even get Darfur under control so it is doubtful any meaningful intervention will come for it. And Western Nations are weary of intervention, and even in times with more confidence and resources like the ninties, the west does not really care about Africa, as it showed during the crisis in Rwanda and the DRC. So it seems an old fashioned civil war is the likely outcome of this disputed election.
Here is what my crystal ball foretells. Each side will in part fund itself from cacoa exports. This will increase the need to control production, leading to forced labor, also known as slavery, and a backslide in economic development, as small farmers will likely lose their land and livelihood. The millions of migrant workers from neighboring states are especially vunerable, as they are generally veiwed with disdain and ethnic hatred, and they may face genocide or at the very least forced removal. It really is shaping up to be a good old fashioned African conflict. Intractable, ugly, and funded by exports of a commodity valued in the West.
So my question is this, if all this comes to pass, is America willing to boycott chocolate? I think not. I don't think Americans could even give up chocolate to save lives in Africa. That is my prediction and I think the coming months will bear all this out.
I will say this. I am giving up chocolate until the situation is resolved. Its going to suck, but at least I won't have blood on my tongue.