Tim Newman, Campaigns Director, International Labor Rights Forum
As readers of this blog know, the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast has been plagued by abusive child labor, forced labor and trafficking for years. Another consistent problem has been corruption in the government management of this sector. A government inquiry into corruption in the Coffee and Cocoa Board has led to the imprisonment of over 20 officials.
Many of these abuses have come to light due to the fearless work of journalists in Cote d'Ivoire. But exposing human rights abuses and corruption in the production of the country's major export often comes with dangerous consequences. In 2005, French journalist Guy-André Kieffer disappeared while investigating corruption in the cocoa industry and his case remains unsolved to this day. Just last week, three editors of the newspaper Le Nouveau Courrier, Théophile Kouamouo, Stéphane Guédé and Saint Claver Oula, were arrested hours after publishing a story about the government inquiry into cocoa corruption.
These journalists need your support TODAY! TAKE ACTION HERE!
The three Ivorian journalists have been held in jail and could face any where from one to five years in prison as well as a fine for their work to expose corruption. At least one of the journalists, Oula, is on hunger strike. Other journalists and rights activists have been protesting all week in Ivory Coast. Today, reporters marched through the capital of Abidjan and faced police repression and tear gas as they held a sit-in at the Justice Department.
This case is extremely important because journalists have been at the forefront of exposing the reality behind the production of cocoa. Silencing and punishing those who speak out will have a chilling affect on all of those in civil society who are working for justice and human rights.
There are also some compelling reasons for those of us in the US to take action. First of all, Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa, so their cocoa beans are in many of the chocolate products we enjoy in the US. Additionally, the US government has dedicated lots of money and resources to fighting labor rights abuses in the cocoa sector, but how can farmers in Ivory Coast improve their conditions if the government mismanages the sector and silences those who seek the truth?
Finally, several of the individuals mentioned in the article that led to the arrest of these journalists are Ivorian officials who owned and operated a chocolate manufacturing plant in Fulton, NY. In 2004, these individuals formed the New York Chocolate and Confections Company, with additional financial support from the California-based Lion Capital Management Group, and took over the chocolate factory that had previously been owned by Nestle. There were numerous problems in the management of the factory, but the report alleges that the Ivorian owners were committing fraud and using the company as a way to siphon money from the Ivorian cocoa industry. The owners are now in jail in the Ivory Coast and the company has filed bankruptcy and shut down -- leading to job losses in Fulton.
As a verdict in the case could come as soon as this Monday, it is critical that we show our solidarity with these unjustly arrested journalists NOW!
Click here to participate in an e-mail action to release these three journalists and protect press freedom! Then, get five friends to join you!