Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documentary. 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.

Monday, January 25, 2021

'For the first time, we're seen as we should be seen,' Martin Luther King Jr. told Star Trek's 'Uhura'

Prepping the spring semester when classes start the day after an involuntary furlough is prone to put a particular professor perpetually a week behind.  So forgive me for belatedly marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which fell this year on Monday, January 18. Or we can say this is a more timely commemoration of yesterday's World Day for African and Afrodescendant Culture.

Of all the things one could relate about the legendary Dr. King, Nichelle Nichols (IMDb, PBS), Star Trek's original Lt. Uhura, has the very best story.

That's from the 2011 documentary, Trek Nation (IMDb, Amazon).  She told the story also to the Television Academy Foundation in 2019.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Cameroon human rights record prompting Washington to end trade preference includes internet shutdowns

The announcement that the United States will end trade preferences for Cameroon in response to the country's human rights record marks some good news out of Washington and exemplifies the kind of "quid pro quo" that foreign policy is supposed to leverage.

In a freedom-of-expression angle to the story, documentary filmmakers screened Blacked Out: The Cameroon Internet Shutdown at RightsCon 2019 in Tunis over the summer.  The presentation fit perfectly into one of the key conference themes, "#KeepItOn."  I was privileged to be there and to meet one of the filmmakers, who talked about the extraordinary risk of documenting the minority anglophone community in Cameroon today.  More at Quartz Africa and at the Blacked Out YouTube channel.  The film can be viewed on YouTube in its 43-minute cut or its 65-minute uncut version, below.


Of interest to legal comparatists, there's an interesting underlying story in Cameroon's civil law tradition arising from a merger of French and British political possessions.  That's not the subject of the movie, but you can imagine the tension of legal tradition running in tandem with tensions of culture, language, and history, and all of that overlaid on and obscuring, in classic imperialist fashion, pre- and still-existing tribal cultures and customary legal traditions.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Documentary film critically examines 'Deflategate,' exposes science-for-hire industry, Big Sport marketing machine



At UMass Law School, from left to right: yours truly, sporting a Brady kit gifted by my Torts students, night class of 2018; author, commentator, and comedian Jerry Thornton, former NFL employee Scott Miller; Lemon Martini producer and UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford; and Julie Marron, acclaimed director of Happygram and Four Games in Fall.

The UMass Law School community had a special treat of an event last week: an invitation-only, friends-and-family pre-screening of the director’s cut of the forthcoming documentary, Four Games in Fall, from director Julie Marron and Lemon Martini Productions.  See the film’s home page and trailer here, or the trailer below.  The film is in essence a documentary about “Deflategate,” the 2015 scandal in the National Football League in which New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was accused of orchestrating the under-inflation of footballs to rig games in his favor in the Patriots charge to Superbowl victory.

UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford is a producer of Four Games in Fall, putting her legal education to creative use making—as the tagline for Lemon Martini puts it—“social justice documentaries with a twist.”  Marron is an acclaimed Massachusetts director fresh off the roaring success of her 2015 documentary about mammograms and breast cancer, Happygram.  For a Q&A after the screening, Marron and Clifford were joined by documentary interviewees: Scott Miller, a New Yorker and former NFL employee; Jerry Thornton, WEEI radio personality and author of From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots; and Andrew E. Wilson, a marketing and management professor at St. Mary’s College of California.

Four Games in Fall did not disappoint.  Marron and Clifford explained in the Q&A that neither one of them had more than a passing interest in the NFL and the Patriots when they set out to make the documentary.  But they were attracted to exactly that aspect of the Deflategate scandal: that so many people without a vested interest in Patriots football, with nothing to gain by sticking their necks out, seemed to be taking an interest in the case.  Roughly as Clifford said it, when a lot of very smart people in the sciences, with at best ordinary interest in American football, started looking at the Deflategate case and the penalties exacted against Brady, and saying “something smells here,” she and Marron started paying attention.  They had no agenda, but Four Games in Fall definitely raises red flags—or, I guess, throws yellow ones—on what seems to be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hell-bent persecution of star-athlete and national celebrity Brady and football’s Superbowl-winningest team.

Therein lies the subtle brilliance of Four Games in Fall, which takes full advantage of the documentary format not only to examine Deflategate on its facts and merits, but to place the affair in a critical context from social, commercial, scientific, and legal perspectives.  Reminiscent of Morgan Spurlock’s classic Super Size Me, Four Games features Professor Wilson to explain marketing phenomena such as “anchoring” and “confirmation bias.”  Those concepts help to explain why the conventional wisdom about what actually happened in Deflategate runs so contrary to the facts.  Following the dollar, Marron furthermore examines the enormous market power of the NFL, which amplifies its messaging and suppresses contrary views from the audience and the players’ union.  In this vein, the film brings in the NFL’s reluctant engagement with the mounting evidence of CTE injury and critically exposes the "science for hire" industry.  Meanwhile, science--the real stuff--reveals the startling imprecision behind NFL rules such as ball-inflation standards.  Those standards are so faulty as not to account for on-field temperature in a sport played in late autumn and early winter.

Against this backdrop, Brady’s case winds through the courts, where yet another story unfolds: the un-level playing field of pervasive arbitration agreements, affecting even NFL players, and the Second Circuit’s judicial-typical capitulation to boilerplate contract at the arguable expense of fundamental fairness.  Brady dropped his case before trying to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court, disappointing many observers, including, at that time, he confessed, Thornton.   But the film and the panelists explained a number of reasons why it made no sense to continue.  Brady’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, which did not bolster the QB’s will to litigate.  Yet just as importantly, Brady’s legal team must have realized that its case, implicating NFL players and their union in opposition to the enormous power of the NFL, was sui generis.  It did not make for the kind of broad-implication inquiry that the Supreme Court would likely want to see before exercising discretionary review.  In truth, the many NFL players who are not stars do face physical hardships out of proportion to their remuneration and job security, just like an average factory Joe.  At the same time, NFL players are not Willy Loman, and the NFL is not--quite--E Corp.

Nevertheless, Deflategate, informed by Four Games in Fall, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  We do, as Americans, seek to identify personally with our sporting heroes, however aspirational the comparison.  Tom Brady’s retiring temperament (supermodel spouse notwithstanding) and boyish charm have the feel of an underdog American David who took on the NFL corporate Goliath and lost.  Whether one agrees or not with the physical and social scientists who populate the frames of Four Games in Fall, it’s hard to conclude on the legal end that Brady and the Patriots got a fair shake.  And with so many of us worker bees—tied up in arbitration contracts we did not meaningfully agree to and don’t really want, beholden to the disproportionate and opaque oligopolistic power of mammoth corporations for just about everything we do, including our employment and especially lately our healthcare—Brady’s loss unexpectedly hits home with all the punch of a 300-pound offensive tackle.

Our hero should have vanquished Goliath and failed.  If Tom Brady can’t beat the monster, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Four Games in Fall is setting off soon for the festival circuit and will come to consumers through one media channel or another shortly thereafter.  See it.  You don’t have to be a fan of American football; I’m not.  This film is about so much more.

 Four Games in Fall trailer.