Whenever and wherever there is an important strategic resource in Africa, that resource has nearly always been exploited to the detriment of those expected to extract it. That has been the case for gold, diamonds, rubber, oil, and it is no less true of cocoa. Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa plantations, though free of the civil war in which cocoa became a conflict resource, often called “Blood Cocoa”, still suffer from extremely exploitative conditions on farms.
A 2012 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate shows the stunning reality and ease with which cocoa farmers pay for trafficked children across borders to work for little to no money on cocoa plantations. Farmers pay as little as 230 euros to buy the labour of a trafficked child, and the use of children is not limited to the farms themselves. Children are also exploited in the mid-way warehouses that gather cocoa for selling to larger buyers, carrying sacks of cocoa weighing up to 60kg.
The Lebanese Diaspora
Among the many migrant communities in Africa that were initially the hangover of the Empire, the Lebanese community started to move to areas of French Africa as early as the beginning of the 20th Century. Motivated by the potential riches, many in the Lebanese community set up small businesses that flourished, requiring little start-up capital. Among the resources in which the Lebanese diaspora trades is blood cocoa.
Lebanese traders are often involved as middlemen, going out to hundreds of smaller individual farms, buying cocoa cheap, collecting it, and selling it at a higher price. This trade is done with cash in hand – small-scale African cocoa farmers who earn $1-2 per day often do not have bank accounts. Lebanese firms doing business like this means there is seldom an opportunity for governments to collect tax, and benefit from the natural resources.
The Hezbollah Connection
As explained by another Grey Dynamics article, the Lebanese diaspora is not a disconnected entity from the mother country. Hezbollah, a group that is variously defined as a government, a terror organisation, and a political force, uses the Lebanese diaspora in South America to funnel drugs into the United State. A shelved Federal investigation, Project Cassandra, allegedly noted that Hezbollah uses the diaspora in Asia, Europe, and West Africa to launder drug money. What better place and industry would there be to launder money, than the cocoa industry, in which there are large-scale cash-in-hand businesses, little government oversight, and geographic proximity to sources of drug money in South America.
The connection is more than a theoretically ideal model of economic convenience, however. There are between 80,000 and 100,000 people of the Lebanese diaspora living in the Côte d’Ivoire, and many of them consider Hezbollah to be a political entity rather than a terrorist group. Furthermore, though the diaspora is keen to avoid such connections, there are allegations that the largest Lebanese cultural association in Côte d’Ivoire, the al-Ghadir association, has been a source of funding for Hezbollah.
While the exploitative conditions and child labour or slavery used on blood cocoa farms is not a new phenomenon, relatively few appreciate the confluence of these extremely poor working conditions with the Lebanese diaspora, and potentially, with funding for Hezbollah. While it is a reductivist argument to simply say that cocoa farming results in slave labour, it seems that such arguments could also argue that cocoa farming may play a small role in helping fund Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organisation.
Image: CUFI (link)