Showing posts with label Nestlé. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nestlé. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Child labor still plagues chocolate supply chain in West Africa, despite decade of distressing documentaries

From our dining room table, a chocolate bunny left over from the weekend is staring me down.  Two things are keeping me from biting off its smug head.  First, I just got back from a run of only a couple miles, and I feel like I'm breathing through a straw.

Second, earlier today, I watched Chocolate's Heart of Darkness, a study of child labor in the chocolate supply chain.  The 42-minute piece is free on YouTube, posted September 2020.

This English version is credited to German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), though the film originated with French independent documentary firm Premieres Lignes in 2019.  French journalist and filmmaker Paul Moreira directed.  On YouTube, Chocolate's Heart of Darkness appears as "Bitter Chocolate," which risks confusion, because that is the title of an equally disturbing but different project on the same subject: s2e05 of the Netflix documentary series, Rotten, directed by Abigail Harper and also released in 2019.

Both of these Bitter works update, with precious little progress to report, the sorry state of affairs captured in the 2010 documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, which was co-directed by Danish journalist Miki Mistrati and American U. Roberto Romano, a photojournalist and human rights activist who passed away in 2013.

Cocoa I photographed in Ghana in 2020.
The DW film depicts industry reliance with some success
in certification tracking in Ghana, but not in Côte d'Ivoire.
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
In the last decade, I've refrained from recommending the 2010 docko to students or colleagues, because it's one of those films in which the makers' agenda so powerfully muscles in on the narrative that the viewer is left with reservations over objectivity.  But now, with two more projects in the same vein and all compasses pointing in the same direction, I think it's fair to discount nuanced indications of bias and say that Big Chocolate has a real mess on its hands.

Litigation against American agri-giant Cargill, a key broker in the global chocolate trade, and against Swiss-based multinational Nestlé, over child labor—practically, slavery—sits presently in the U.S. Supreme Court (Cargill, Nestlé at SCOTUSblog).  A decision, due any day, seems likely to kick the claims out for lack of U.S. jurisdiction under the alien tort statute, however much some Justices might have been troubled by what they heard in oral argument in December.

Even if the suits were to proceed in U.S. courts, or in any courts, Chocolate's Heart of Darkness gives a flavor of how hard the claims would be to prosecute.  Abusive child labor is so entrenched in West African forests, and nations such as Côte d'Ivoire so utterly incapable of establishing rule of law in these remote places, that it is scarcely imaginable that cocoa could be harvested any other way.  This is to say nothing of rampant deforestation to meet demand.

The film shows that the certification and tracking mechanisms set up with, let's give the benefit of the doubt, the best of intentions by the corporations to make good on sustainability pledges are so riddled with corruption as to be farcical.  It strains credulity to suppose that transnational companies do not know the reality.  But knowledge is not necessarily culpability.  And this is hardly the only supply chain that leads from Western fancy to catastrophic human toll in the developing world.

I don't think that my chocolate bunny is going to last the week.  But it's going to make me sick in more ways than one.