Every week I receive an email from Dudley Church which has their weekly newsletter, the "Dudley Samachar" (samachar means news). It's handed out at the four churches in Dudley Circuit/Parish in Suva and emailed out to friends and former members.
Last Sunday's issue contained, among other things, articles from the Uniting Church of Australia magazine "Revive" on St. Valentine's Day.
One article which caught my attention and prompted a discussion with my children was titled, "A LOVE TO DIE FOR":
St. Valentine's Day, 14 February, isn't quite as big a deal in Australia as it is in the United States; nonetheless, many romantics like to mark the day with a small token of affection to the one they love. In 2011, Australians were estimated to have spent about $285million on Valentine's Day chocolate and confectionary. But is that heart-shaped box really giving the right message?
The reality of chocolate is far from romantic. Around 70 per cent of the world's production of cocoa comes from West Africa - Ghana, Nigeria, C"te d'Ivoire and Cameroon. Most of the chocolate sold in Australia will contain cocoa from West Africa, produced by children forced to work in slave-like conditions or have been trafficked.
The US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in C"te d'Ivoire's cocoa industry work under "the worst forms of child labor", and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Think about it. One of life's simple pleasures, one we share as an expression of love, comes to us courtesy of children who have been taken from their families and denied a childhood.
Children who understand what the beans they collect are used for, because they have never seen chocolate.
Naturally you can imagine the look on my two little one's faces after they read the article (they had to read it for themselves to make sure this wasn't one of Daddy's "made up stories").
Yesterday as many chocolates were given out and eaten on St. Valentine's Day (which was not a public holiday as one Fijian television channel's programming seemed to suggest) I wondered how many people thought about where their chocolate came from (beyond of course the giver or the shop at which it was bought).
A BBC Panorama investigation found that that there is no guarantee, despite safeguards, even with chocolate marketed as Fairtrade, that child labour - as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - has not been involved in the supply chain. Investigative journalist Paul Kenyon, posed as a cocoa dealer and in a village in Ghana, met 12-year-old Ouare Fatao Kwakou, who was sold to traffickers by his uncle and taken from neighbouring and impoverished Burkina Faso to work as a cocoa picker.
More than a year later, he had not been paid a penny for his work - the profits of his labour going instead to his new cocoa masters and to the uncle who sold him.
Fair Trade is a growing, international movement which ensures that producers in poor countries get a fair deal.
According to the BBC, the Fairtrade cocoa co-operative in Ghana which supplies Cadbury and Divine, suspended seven out of 33 of their cocoa farming communities in one of its 52 major growing districts in the country after they were found to be using the worst forms of child labour. Some suspensions were lifted when the cooperatives stopped using child labour
In the port city of San Pedro in Ivory Coast, Kenyon posed as a trader and sold on cocoa beans which had been produced by the worst forms of child labour. It is at this point where the traceability of the cocoa ends and it can be sold on to major chocolate makers worldwide who cannot say how it was sourced.
For more on child labour and chocolate read the BBC article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm
For the last few years I have enjoyed the local chocolate made in Tailevu. However I have only been able to obtain a few precious bars during the Ministry of Primary Industries' Fiji Agricultural Show.
However those bars from Namau Village in Naloto, Tailevu, in their no frills foil wrapping are the closest I have come to in terms of guilt-free chocolate!
I have not had an opportunity to visit our local chocolatiers and am not sure when they will have the capacity to cater for the Fijian market.
I do however, know that it is their dream. For that dream to become a reality, many of us will seriously need to commit to supporting our local cottage industries.
Most of us do support our cottage industries, and not just because of the Buy Fiji Made campaign (although I'm sure it helps). We buy bubu's jam, bahaini's chutney, roti parcels, fried fish and cassava lunch packs, sasa-brooms, patchwork quilts and floormats made from cast-off rags because they are affordable.
We buy them because we are supporting the people (mainly our mothers and sisters) who make them as often the only source of income for the family. At the same time we are choosing our local products over the imports.
I am sure that one day, our Tailevuan chocolate will be promoted locally and regionally like the products from FRIEND Fiji or internationally demanded like those of Pure Fiji, both who combine support for locally made products with international standards.
Martin Luther King once remarked, "Before you've finished your breakfast this morning, you'll have relied on half the world". This may be true of western countries. It does not have to be the case in Fiji.
Maybe our sila can be made into corn flakes, our Labasa rice can become the bubbles that children love.
Who knows, maybe next year you will be able to give your Valentine Fiji chocolate. At least knowing where it came from and who made it won't leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
* Reverend James Bhagwan is currently a student of the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://thejournalofaspiritualwonderer.blogspot.com.