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Blood Chocolate: The dark side of Valentine’s Day

While there will always be those who would rather chuck those chalky candy hearts than eat them with their sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, anti-V-Day sentiments usually focus on how big, evil corporations make couples spend unnecessary cash on each other and how single people hate themselves. But how about the global implications of the holiday? ...

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

While there will always be those who would rather chuck those chalky candy hearts than eat them with their sweetheart on Valentine's Day, anti-V-Day sentiments usually focus on how big, evil corporations make couples spend unnecessary cash on each other and how single people hate themselves. But how about the global implications of the holiday?

While examples of romantic gifts gone wrong like conflict diamonds are unfortunately already ubiquitous, some groups are spending this Valentine's Day raising awareness about the global impact of the cocoa trade. This year the focus on cocoa is especially relevant thanks to an ongoing political crisis in the world's biggest cocoa supplier: the Ivory Coast, which produced 1.2 million tons of chocolate's main ingredient last year. Avaaz, an activist group, has been pushing Hershey, Nestle, Cargill, and Cadbury, to boycott Ivorian cocoa, the trade in which is helping to prop up President Laurent Gbagbo's pariah regime.

The European Union's sanctions on the Ivory Coast's ports extend to cocoa. Last month, Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the most recent presidential election, embargoed cocoa exports for a month, in an attempt to cut off support to Gbagbo. He's threatened to extend the ban if Gbagbo doesn't leave office.

While there will always be those who would rather chuck those chalky candy hearts than eat them with their sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, anti-V-Day sentiments usually focus on how big, evil corporations make couples spend unnecessary cash on each other and how single people hate themselves. But how about the global implications of the holiday?

While examples of romantic gifts gone wrong like conflict diamonds are unfortunately already ubiquitous, some groups are spending this Valentine’s Day raising awareness about the global impact of the cocoa trade. This year the focus on cocoa is especially relevant thanks to an ongoing political crisis in the world’s biggest cocoa supplier: the Ivory Coast, which produced 1.2 million tons of chocolate’s main ingredient last year. Avaaz, an activist group, has been pushing Hershey, Nestle, Cargill, and Cadbury, to boycott Ivorian cocoa, the trade in which is helping to prop up President Laurent Gbagbo’s pariah regime.

The European Union’s sanctions on the Ivory Coast’s ports extend to cocoa. Last month, Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the most recent presidential election, embargoed cocoa exports for a month, in an attempt to cut off support to Gbagbo. He’s threatened to extend the ban if Gbagbo doesn’t leave office.

Another activist group, Green America, is pushing for increased awareness of the use of child labor in cocoa production. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast, nearly a quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 17 who lived in cocoa-growing regions had worked on a cocoa farm, often in hazardous conditions. Green America suggests that buying Fair Trade chocolate can help combat child labor, as well as support small farmers and lessen environmental impacts.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, cocoa futures prices have risen more than 20 percent since Ivory Coast’s disputed Nov. 28 election. And the continuing ban in the Ivory Coast means prices are likely to continue to rise.

This year, instead of blood diamonds, chocolate … whatever, try giving your special someone a hug instead. It just might be sweeter.

Suzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.

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