Tuesday 13 September 2011

Political violence in the Ivory Coast

This was intended as a comment on this blog post, but it became too long so I've posted it here and linked it from there, instead.

I've been praying for the political situation in Ivory Coast a lot since their elections earlier this year.  I've come to understand that a major contributor to the violence we were seeing back then was the strong belief all Ivorians seemed to share that there just aren't enough resources to go around.  People were fighting for political power for their tribal group so that they themselves could be confident that they would have access to the simple necessities of life.

I have been praying that the people there - and especially those who know Jesus - would dare to believe that there were enough resources for all.  I have also been praying that the global Church would be willing to do whatever we can to make that true.  And that has led me back to Fair Trade cocoa and cocoa products.

I'm pretty sure that cocoa is the major export earner in the Ivory Coast - if not, it's a very significant contributor.  Many Ivorian cocoa farmers use slave labour (often kidnapped Malian children) on their farms.  Like the cotton farmers of the old American South, they believe that they couldn't make ends meet if they were to hire adults and pay them liveable wages.  Unlike the old American cotton farmers, it looks like they may be quite literally correct: they probably couldn't earn enough from their crop to send their own children to school without enslaving someone else's children on their farm.  In other words, like the political violence we've seen in the Ivory Coast earlier this year, slavery on cocoa farms also has it's roots in the belief/knowledge that there simply aren't enough resources to go around.

But what if the church in the West was prepared to pay those cocoa farmers enough that they could afford to send their own children to school and hire adults to work their farm - adults who they, in turn, paid enough so that they could send their own children to school, too?  We have that power: that's what buying Fair Trade means.  Other cocoa (even the fancy stuff) is sold at the lowest price the farmer will accept and so favours those who have the lowest costs: the slave owners.  However, if all Christians in the West decided to only purchase Fair Trade cocoa and cocoa products then the slave owners would lose their market.  They would have to move to paying a decent minimum wage if they wanted to sell their product.

That's what Martin and I decided to do about five years ago.  I wrote a bit about why, and about our experiences in doing so, last Easter.

If the Western Church decided to do this - to pay a fair price for the Ivory Coast's biggest export - then there suddenly really would be enough resources to go around.  Obviously foreign income isn't the only thing they need to sort out their problems, but it'd be a big start and it's one that's easily within our grasp.

If you do this, you may find that you have to cut down on your chocolate consumption a bit: that's certainly been our experience, both because of the slightly higher price and because the range of products available is still quite limited.  But it could be worse: many of the people who campaigned for the end of American slavery in the 19th century did completely without sugar for years on end!  Back then, the only sugar available was produced by slaves, whereas at least we can buy fairly produced cocoa at most local supermarkets.

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