12 July 2007

How to Enjoy Chocolate and Make the World a Better Place

I know, the last thing you want is someone telling you that one of the few joys left without guilt is really guilt laden, but this time you can enjoy a small transgression and feel good about it. The good news is you can now buy delicious chocolate and know that the farmer who produced the cocoa beans received a fair price for his product and it was produced without illegal child labour and without child slaves. The bad news is that some 80% of the cocoa beans are produced using child labourers and slaves. So the trick is to enjoy the fair trade product and, if you are the advocating type, actively encourage the child-exploiting producers to change their ways.

You probably recall that in 2001 the big chocolate manufacturers agreed to take steps to eliminate illegal child labour, provide schools and decent living conditions for cocoa labourers, and develop a certification process to assure these standards were met. The protocol called for this all to be in place within five years. The industry established the World Cocoa Foundation to implement the protocol. According to a recent, in-depth investigation by the BBC, almost nothing has been accomplished since the protocol was signed, and certainly the five year goal has not been achieved. For example, only 6 of the planned 40 schools have been built. One major producing prefecture in the Ivory Coast has seen no funding from the protocol. You can read and listen to the BBC report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/assignment.shtml and go to Chocolate’s Child Labourers. There is also a summary of the programme at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article2401700.ece

What this means is that your Kit Kat or Hershey with Almonds or your Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream almost certainly contains the product of child exploitation. Of course, the choice is yours, but I personally prefer not to participate in that.

The child workers, some as young as 10, work 12 hours per day, do not go to school, are locked in their rooms at night, and if they try to escape they are physically maimed. Their work is difficult and dangerous, carrying heavy bags of cocoa beans along rocky trails or chopping with large machetes. When they reach adulthood they are abandoned to a life of living on the streets.

International organisations such as Amnesty International and the Canadian Red Cross and the International Labour Organisation estimate there are some 240.000 child labours involved in cocoa production in the Ivory Coast which produces some 40% of the world cocoa. Of these, it is estimated that between 5.000 and 15.000 are child slaves. According to the BBC, the Ivorian government is complicit in this terrible child exploitation.

Since the signing of the protocol in 2001 the price of cocoa has risen by over 50% (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). According to anecdotal information from the BBC, many farmers have received no price increase for their beans during that period. Faced with increasing prices of pesticides and fuel, many farmers are very near financial disaster.

But don’t despair! You can now buy Fairtrade chocolate at your local market; in the US, for example, at Safeway and Whole Foods; in the UK at Sainsbury’s. Make sure you get the package with the fair trade certificate on it. There are also several companies selling fair trade chocolate on the Web, including Equal Exchange (www.equalexchange.com) and Devine Chocolate (http://www.divinechocolateusa.com or http://www.divinechocolate.com in the UK).

Avoid products by the big guys including M&M/Mars, Nestle (including Haagen Dazs), Godiva, Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Hershey. These are not the only perpetrators in this sordid story; others include ADM, Cargill and many middlemen, but they are not as easily accessible by consumers.

If you want to be more proactive, write to the World Cocoa Foundation and its members and tell them you are fed up with their delays and will boycott the products of its members until they comply fully with the 2001 protocol. And then make sure you boycott the products. But that’s not the end of it. Whenever you buy some Fairtrade chocolate, send an amount equal to the purchase price or more if you can, to Oxfam to enable them to get more cocoa farmers into the Fairtrade scheme. Send an email if you want an address or web site for this.

Politically, the US protocol was generated by New York Congressman Eliot Engel and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. Write to them and your Congressman and Senators and tell them you want the protocol enforced when it comes up for review next year. In Europe, write to your MEP and your minister of foreign Affairs and tell them the same thing. If you want sample letters and addresses, email me.

In the meantime, if you want to read a nice article on chocolate, go to http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/specialty/choc_guide.html.

Grambois France July 2007
Email glensviewpoint@btinternet.com

23 June 2007

United Nations Peacekeepers and the United States

It sounds wonderful. Let’s put together a peace-keeping force, under the auspices of the United Nations, and send them to trouble spots to stop armed conflicts and perhaps bring peace. Lets’ give the soldiers all the latest equipment and a distinctive blue helmet. Then they will keep warring parties apart, report on violations of peace agreements, protect the displaced and vulnerable, and facilitate the work of relief and health organisations until peace can return, or at least not war. This is one idea that has been advanced for the US to get out of the Iraq quagmire. It’s worked before. There has been a UN peace-keeping force in Cyprus since 1964 and has prevented the outbreak of a major war between Greece and Turkey. There are many other examples in the Balkans, Africa and Asia. At the beginning of 2007 there were over 100,000 people involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world.

The idea is excellent. Soldiers from poorer, less controversial countries, sometimes ethnically more close to the warring factions, go into zones of conflict to impose peace. The richer, more controversial, sometimes more closely involved with one side or the other of the conflict, pay the bill. And the world is more peaceful as a result.

Some say, “yes, but it doesn’t work that way.” That’s true, sometimes matters get out of control, peacekeepers cower before formidable foes, some soldiers rape locals or commit other atrocities. Sadly, there are some bad soldiers in every army. And sometimes the warring factions just ignore the peace-keepers. But the concept has been successful in most cases, certainly more successful than making war to bring peace.

But the whole idea is under threat. The peacekeeping fund is running out of money, mostly because the US is not paying what it pledged to pay. The US will contribute about $ 1 billion to the peacekeeping fund in 2007 which is some $500.00 less than it pledged. The US is already $500.000 in arrears from previous underpayments. This means that by the end of 2007 the US will be over $ 1 billion in arrears. This causes many problems in international relations, makes the world less safe, and brings the ethical and moral behaviour of the US government further into question. Worse, it jeopardises the prospects for UN peacekeepers in the Sudan, Darfur and other current hot spots.

The US contributes substantial amounts to the United Nations, but probably not its fair share. With 28% of the world’s economy, it has unilaterally limited its contribution to 22% of the UN’s budget. And now it is not even paying that.

I can’t understand how the Bush Administration can spend over $6 billion every month on making war in Iraq but can’t find less than one week’s worth of war payments to pay for making peace, especially after it had pledged to do so.

According to former US Senator Tim Wirth, now President of the United Nations Foundation, Bangladesh, the world’s poorest country, is $80 million in debt because the US has not honoured its commitments.

So, if you want some of your tax money to go for peacekeeping as well as war making, write to your congressman and senators and tell them you want the US to pay its obligations to the UN peacekeeping fund. Or, write to your MEP and tell him/her that you want the EU to pressure the US to meet its UN peacekeeping obligations. You can also sign an online petition at http://www.priceofpeace.org/.

For more information, go to a Financial Times article on the subject - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/f4bc2954-1ea7-11dc-bc22-000b5df10621.html

Grambois, France 23 June 2007

3 June 2007

Fencing In Or Fencing Out? The Proposed new US Visa Requirements

Fencing In Or Fencing Out? The Proposed new US Visa Requirements

One of my favourite poems is Robert Frost’s Mending Walls in which he observes,

“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down…..

I read in this morning’s Le Figaro, France’s bestselling newspaper, that the US is thinking about requiring Europeans to obtain visas for entering the US. According to the article, the admission of the last batch of countries into the European Union has caused the guys at Homeland Security to re-think their policy about letting “foreigners” into the US. The Senate has passed a bill authorising the Electronic Voyage Authorisation procedure (EVA) in place of the current Visa Waiver Program. Modeled on the Australian system, the EVA is an electronic version of a visa requirement. This is yet another wall separating the Americans from the rest of the world. And the question about fencing in or fencing out is relevant.

What this means is that anyone wanting to go to the US can be refused admission without ever talking to an American official, at the whim of some computer sorting system, and without recourse. Under the existing Homeland Security laws, the INS can arbitrarily refuse entry or detain a prospective entrant without cause, and not subject to any sort of review, much less giving the right of habeas corpus. This, alone, is sufficient to offend many prospective visitors. When you add the almost inhuman procedures for non-American by the INS and Department of Agriculture at ports of entry, there is a strong disincentive to visit the US. All this is done in the name of Homeland Security, but these unfriendly procedures are ineffective and simply not necessary to achieve a higher level of security.

Many European friends have complained about the treatment they received at immigration control after flying from Europe. They had the opinion that Americans were cold, unfriendly, even hostile. They were then surprised at the openness and friendliness of Americans they met on their journey, attributes that are certainly much more indicative of American culture than the gun-toting immigration officials.

But the real losers in this new regime will be the Americans themselves. Now US citizens can travel throughout the European Union without a visa. In the ugly spirit of reciprocity, many European states will re-impose visa requirements. This means the re-introduction of time-wasting procedures to get visas, and the interminable waiting at border crossings as all visa are checked. This is certainly a disincentive for Americans to visit Europe. The result is that the friendly dialogue across the Atlantic will be diminished,Americans are fencing in without a doubt.

If this new system is implemented, security itself will suffer. In the monumental effort to process visa applications and keep track of all the petty violations, US security officials will lose their focus on trying to find and stop real threats. The INS and Homeland Security officials have enough power already. Now we need to demand that they meet their responsibilities. Taking away more of our rights will not accomplish this.

Grambois, France 3 June 2007