This morning i saw a short documentary on BBC World called "Bittersweet" . And it did indeed leave me with just that mixed taste in my mouth.
The short recap of it is this:
The Ivory Coast is the single largest export country for cocoa beans in the world. The demand for cocoa products has steadily increased since the 80:s but the money paid to the farmers has stayed the same thus creating a huge gap between demand and salary. With increasing demand, cocoa farmers are getting poorer and the working conditions are getting worse - many working for minimum or no wages and many are child laborers forced to work and away from school to support their families. In 2003 there was approximately 103.000 child laborers working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in what has been described as the worst form of child labour.
In 2001 a bill was passed in the US congress obliging the chocolate industry not to use child slave labour in the process of harvesting cocoa beans. The result has so far been poor or none.
About the mixed taste then:
A bitter taste - coming from the (in many ways unvoluntary!?) sad numbness of the big corporation (Nestlé ,Cargill) ceo:s and the middle men (those who buy and sell the unrefined product), the hunger for profit disregarding the suffering of others (minimum or no-wage workers in the cocoa plantations) and the fact that I, as a consumer, for so many years never realised that my sweet tooth was being pleased by and through someone elses slave like labour.
This, using the language of theology, is - evil!
It is proof of a broken world
More on taste now:
A sweet taste - from the fact that there are congressmen and faitrade company ceo:s that want to make a change even if it will end up doubling the retail prices for our favourite Twix-bars and M&M:s. A sweet taste also from the fact that my knowledge of who my "neighbour" is allows me to participate in a change. A change and an activity (You might even say way of life) that Jesus calls "The rule of God" . (or The Kingdom of God/heaven)
This rule is about justice.
The kind of justice that operates on behalf of the poor and powerless (or slave-laborers on cocoa plantations) and opposes the numbness and greed that put them into that kind of life. This justice - and the way of life it is significant of - creates an opportunity for me and you to buy chocolate (or tea, coffee, rice, sugar, fruit, clothes etc) that provides decent wages, decent education and freedom to people that are now on minimum or no-wage and risk staying there the rest of their lives.
However, we might think of an opportunity as something that we make a buck out of rather than ending up paying doubled prices for our favourite choc-bars.
It´s a matter of identity.
Jesus speaks about neighbour love, and when he does that his focus is not on me (suprise?). It´s on my neighbour and on how God sees him/her. I can only be my true self if I stop "reflecting on me" first, and instead take on the identity of a generous, neighbour-loving God and see to my neighbours needs.
So who is my neighbour in a globalized world, a glocal village?
If God´s rule is about justice, then I´m pretty sure one of my neighbours must be that 10 year old boy harvesting cocoa beans for no wage, missing out on a proper education.
My opportunity then, to promote the just rule of God (read: In this case decent wages, educational possibilities etc) is to stop and to start!
Stop buying stuff that is not fairly and ethically traded!
Start buying stuff that is fairly and etichally traded and start looking for opportunities to promote justice in your global neighbourhood. Why not write some letters to the ceo:s of Nestlé and Cargill?
Those are the basics!
Further steps might include:
Getting your group of close friends, your church or company to start or support microfinance enterprises. Taking a decision (and this is "mandatory" for churches only...) on spending 50% of your money on work among, and on behalf of, the poor and powerless in and outside of your local community.
Actually it seems that the church of the first two centuries largely did that in one way or another ... well actually they seem to have spent far more than 50%, but let´s start somewhere managable shall we?
You can find a Global Exchange document on the situation in The Ivory Coast, on child labour, fairtrade and the chocolate industry here.