Does the Chocolate Industry Fund Hezbollah?
May 15, 2020
May 15, 2020
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, 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.
Among the many migrant communities in Africa that were initially the hangover of Empire, the Lebanese community started to move to areas of French Africa as early as the beginning of the 20thCentury. Motivated by the potential riches, many in the Lebanese community set up small businesses that flourished, requiring little start-up capital. Among the resources which the Lebanese diaspora trades in is cocoa. Lebanese traders are often involved as middlemen, going out to hundreds of smaller individual farms, buying cocoa cheap, collecting it, and selling it on 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.
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.
The exploitative conditions and child labour (or slavery) used on cocoa farms is not a new phenomenon. However, relatively few appreciate the confluence of these extremely poor working conditions with the Lebanese diaspora, which is heavily involved in the purchase and resale of cocoa as a key middleman. Lebanese businesses like SAF Cacao, the one-time largest exporter of cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire (though recently dissolved) show the prevalence of the Lebanese diaspora within the cocoa industry. The Lebanese diaspora is involved, to some extent, with Hezbollah, and the diaspora in West Africa plays a part in facilitating the drug trade, by laundering money. Finally, the diaspora is West Africa is heavily involved in the cocoa trade, which is a cash-in-hand sector, and a possible means of laundering drug money.
Figure 1: Countries with financial links to Hezbollah
Hezbollah is an organisation under a large amount of financial pressure. As the war in Syria appears to be winding down, the generous patronage given to the organisation by the Iranian and Syrian governments will almost certainly gradually decrease. Additionally, across the EU, Hezbollah is increasingly being banned. In April 2020, Hezbollah’s political wing, and associated organisations were banned in Germany. The distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing was also dropped in the UK in 2019, and the organisation is completely banned in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, and Japan.
Additionally, Hezbollah, like all organisations across the planet, will not be immune to the detrimental effects of the coronavirus. So, while there may be tenuous links between the cocoa trade, West Africa, and the Lebanese diaspora currently, it is almost certain that as pressure mounts, Hezbollah will be looking to make up for lost revenue elsewhere, and West Africa will be no exception. Given the pre-existing opportunity already present in Côte d’Ivoire or Ghana, it is certain that Hezbollah will consider exploiting whatever involvement it almost certainly already has with the cocoa trade, and analysts should not be surprised by this potential future development.
Louis Tayler is a graduate from the University of Exeter, where he studied Arabic, and is currently studying History & Politics