Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa beans, the main ingredient for chocolate. In 2005-2006, Ivorian production accounted for around 40% of world production – around 1.38m tonnes, none of which is fair-traded or organic. Two cocoa harvests take place during the year, with the main harvest spanning October to March.
Despite the conflict, Côte d’Ivoire’s production levels have varied only slightly. Cocoa is the country’s main economic resource, representing on average 35% of the total value of Ivorian exports, worth 750 billion CFA (US$1.4bn) per year. Of a total population of around 16 million, 3 to 4 million people work in the cocoa sector.
Côte d’Ivoire was already producing cocoa before it became a French colony in 1893. After developing an interest in exploiting timber, then cotton, the French colonial authorities focused on cocoa as an export product. Cocoa production expanded in the early 1900s, with the French authorities corrupting local chiefs, evicting communities from forests in the south and forcibly displacing tens of thousands of people, mainly from the north and from Haute-Volta (which later became Burkina Faso) to work on the cocoa plantations.
Small Ivorian cocoa farmers protested against the higher cocoa prices paid to French plantation owners, as well as against the French appropriation of the labour force. They eventually found their champion in Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a cocoa farmer himself, who formed the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA), an agricultural union, in 1944. Within a year, he was elected as Côte d’Ivoire’s representative to the French parliament and secured a law ending forced labour in 1946. He went on to become the first president of independent Côte d’Ivoire in 1960.
More than 90% of Ivorian cocoa is exported to Europe and North America. The European Union is the main destination, accounting for more than 60.1% of exports for 2005-2006. For the October 2005-September 2006 harvest, the five largest importers of Ivorian cocoa were the Netherlands with 30.6%, the United States with 21.3 %, France with 10.9%, Estonia with 8.2% and Belgium, with 4.8%.
Ninety companies were granted export agreements in 2005 for the 2005-2006 harvest. Ten exporters accounted for more than half the purchases, buying
60.1%, or 623, 815 tonnes, between them.
For the harvest in 2005-2006, Outspan Ivoire SA, a subsidiary of Olam, a company owned by Kewalram Chanrai Group, headquartered in Singapore, was the main exporter, handling almost 107,700 tonnes of cocoa beans. The second largest exporter was Cargill West Africa, a subsidiary of American company Cargill.
The largest European exporter, Tropival, a subsidiary of British company ED & F Man Holdings Ltd, comes in third position, while another American company, ADM, comes in fourth position. PROCI, owned by French group Touton, and Cipexi, owned by Dutch company Continaf Holding B.V, a member of the Amtrada Holding BV group, were the fifth and sixth largest exporters during the 2005-2006 harvest. The largest transporter and freight agent of Ivorian
cocoa, transporting nearly 55% of the market, is SAGA-CI, part of the French group Bolloré.
With the economy destabilized by the IMF's Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and falling commodity prices, the Ivorian elite turned to exploiting ethnic and religious divisions "as competition for declining revenues became fierce." This strategy led to civil war between the north where Muslims predominate and the mainly Christian-populated South causing the country's physical division in 2002 when France sent troops to separate the two sides.
The country is currently occupied by 10,000 U.N. troops and 900 French ones. France has repeatedly, militarily, intervened in Ivory Coast and West Africa to guard its imperial interests and went so far as to destroy the entire Ivorian air force in 2004 to assert its domination.
Ivory Coast's ethnic and religious conflicts are a legacy of French colonialism. France colonized the country in 1893 and separated it out of the larger colony of French West Africa. Ivory Coast was created by France as a mainly Christian country with a thriving cocoa industry. The people from poorer neighbouring Muslim countries had little choice but to move for work to Ivory Coast where they suffered discrimination.
Under French colonialism, tens of thousands of people from the north of Ivory Coast and from neighbouring Burkina Faso were also deliberately displaced to the south of Ivory Coast and made to work as forced labour. The population in the north of Ivory Coast today is made up of immigrants from Muslim countries and Ouattara is one of them. Gbagbo who is Christian from the South has said that Muslims from the country's north are not Ivorian.
Global Witness reports that "the profits each side [in the Ivorian conflict] derives from this [cocoa] trade are fundamental to understanding why the main protagonists have not shown greater commitment to solving the political crisis over the past four and a half years."
"On the government side," the Report continues, "the national cocoa institutions...have directly contributed at least $20.3 million to the war effort. The big cocoa and coffee exporters union, the Groupement Professionel de Exportateurs de Cafe-Cacao (GEPEX) whose members include multinational companies such as Cargill and European companies such as ED and F Man Holdings Ltd. [British], was represented on the board of the Bourse du Cafe et Cacao (BCC), one of the national cocoa institutions that decided to make this contribution to the war effort."
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the notoriously corrupt U.S. multinational, has also been part of GEPEX. ADM has been fined $70 million by the U.S. government for price-fixing. Global Witness quotes an "inside source" as saying that the $20.3 million payment to the government was "a joint decision by the boards of all the cocoa institutions and that exporting companies represented on the boards thought it was a good idea." The source called the payment "a political decision". The report adds that the payments from the BCC to the government, "coincided with a period when some of the worst human rights violations by government forces took place."
The Global Witness report estimates that the Forces Nouvelles (FN), the Ivorian northern rebels, get about $30 million a year in cocoa revenues because companies exporting cocoa from the north have to pay an export tax to the group. FN leaders run an extortion racket centred on the cocoa trade and enrich themselves through it. One such leader is Martin Fofie Kouakou in charge of the Korhogo zone near the Mali border. According to the report, "some of the worst human rights abuses in Ivory Coast since the conflict began took place under Kouakou"
The Western multinationals exporting cocoa from Ivory Coast in turn sell this to chocolate manufacturers such as Cadbury-Schweppes, Nestle and Unilever. Given the significant role of cocoa and Western multinationals in sustaining and financing the Ivorian civil war, Global Witness calls on the chocolate industry "to ensure that the products it sells are conflict-free"
Resources: Global Witness, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, February 2011.