Plenty of people already feel guilty when they eat a bar of chocolate. Now an international pressure group could make them feel even worse.
After diamonds and timber, Global Witness, the London-based pressure group, has turned its sights on chocolate in a report that claims cocoa exports from Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer, have contributed to funding and prolonging the conflict there.
The front page of the report – to be published on Friday – features a bar of chocolate on one side and a group of militiamen on the other.
It draws parallels between the way revenues from cocoa in Ivory Coast were used by both government and rebel forces to fund war efforts, and the way diamonds and timber fuelled the civil war in neighbouring Liberia.
Cocoa exports contributed to as much as 30 per cent of the government military expenditure during one six-month period between 2002 and 2003, Global Witness claims, and has provided about $30m a year to rebel groups since 2004.
The group, which was instrumental in catalysing international sanctions on traders in “blood diamonds”, stops short of calling for a scheme to certify the origin of cocoa beans. Cocoa industry officials argue this would be both impractical and potentially harmful to an industry on which some 4m people in Ivory Coast alone depend directly for a living.
But Global Witness proposes that cocoa exporting companies operating in the country should publish information on the origin of the cocoa they buy, carry out due diligence on purchases, disclose payments to Ivorian cocoa bodies and use their influence to prevent revenues from entering war chests.
A number of cocoa-exporting companies contacted by the Financial Times argued that they had no control over the use of cocoa revenues by the government in Ivory Coast – whose $1.4bn (€1.03bn; £700m) crop last year accounted for about 40 per cent of global production.
Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, a US-based trade group including Nestlé and Hershey’s, said having to prove the origin of cocoa would damage the industry.
“Tracing or labelling individual beans is, as a practical matter, impossible,” she said.
Ivory Coast has been split in two since rebels seized the north of the country in 2002. Global Witness argues that the misuse of funds earned from the cocoa trade continues to slow progress towards a final peace agreement.
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