13 February, 2013

The Political Geography of Chocolate - A Valentine's Day Special

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and if you thought you were getting a break from geography for sweets and smooching, think again! Political Geography Now presents an introduction to chocolate-based global intergovernmental organizations...

World map showing membership in chocolate-related intergovernmental organizations, the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries (COPAL) and the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO)
Map by Evan Centanni, starting from public domain blank world map (source).
International Chocolate Organizations
You've heard of the U.N., the E.U., and the WTO - but those are only some of the most well-known (i.e. boring!) global intergovernmental organizations. This Valentine's Day, you can take a few minutes to learn about the political geography of chocolate - we'll look at two organizations built around the global trade in cocoa beans, the raw ingredient used in making our favorite sweets.

The Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries (COPAL)
The older of the two major chocolate-related intergovernmental organizations, COPAL is a club exclusively for countries that produce and export cocoa (and apparently have trouble with word order when forming acronyms). Founded by a core group of five countries in 1962, the organization is involved in activities such as scientific research, economic coordination, and promotion of chocolate products. Since its formation, COPAL has doubled in size, with a current total of ten member countries:

Logo of the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries (COPAL) Organization Name:  
• Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries
Founded: 1962 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Headquarters: Lagos, Nigeria
Website: www.copal-cpa.org
Africa
 Cameroon
 Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
 Gabon
 Ghana
 Nigeria
 São Tomé and Príncipe
 Togo

Americas
 Brazil
 Dominican Republic

Asia
 Malaysia

COPAL may be the oldest player in the world of international chocolate organizations, but it's not the biggest...

International Cocoa Organization (ICCO)
The International Cocoa Organization, which exists peacefully alongside COPAL (and also uses a questionably-derived acronym), has a much broader geographical scope. Founded in 1973, the ICCO is structured around a series of global International Cocoa Agreements, with a mission to develop what it calls "sustainability" for the cocoa industry.

Issues the ICCO deals with include sustainable production and trade of cocoa beans, fair pay for cocoa farmers, and market transparency through the collection and disbursement of statistical data for the current "cocoa year" and beyond. The organization includes both cocoa exporting countries and cocoa importing countries, with membership closely tied to participation in the International Cocoa Agreements. If you happen to be a country, and you want to join the ICCO, there's a nifty how to join PDF file for download from the website.

COPAL countries can also be part of the ICCO, and most are (let's call those ones "double chocolate" countries). The ICCO is currently transitioning from the 2001 agreement to the more recent 2010 agreement as a basis for membership. Taken together, here are all the members of the ICCO, as well as countries which have signed the agreements but not yet advanced to full membership:

Logo of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) Organization Name:  
• International Cocoa Organization
Founded: 1973 in Geneva, Switzerland
Headquarters: London, UK
Website: www.icco.org
Africa (Exporting)
 Cameroon
 Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
 Democratic Republic of the Congo
 Gabon
 Ghana
 Guinea
 Liberia (not yet full member)
 Nigeria (2001 agreement only)
 Sierra Leone (transitioning to 2010 agreement)
 Togo

Americas (Exporting)
 Brazil (transitioning to 2010 agreement)
 Costa Rica (not yet full member)
 Dominican Republic
 Ecuador (2001 agreement only)
 Nicaragua (2001 agreement only)
 Trinidad and Tobago (transitioning to 2010 agreement)
 Venezuela (2001 agreement only)

Asia (Exporting)
 Indonesia
 Malaysia (2001 agreement only)

Oceania (Exporting)
 Papua New Guinea (2001 agreement only)

Europe (Importing)
 European Union (27 countries)
 Russia (2001 agreement only)
 Switzerland


The Global Cocoa Trade
In fact, the worldwide cocoa industry is bigger than just these two organizations. Though all of the top cocoa-producing countries are members of the ICCO, a few smaller exporters are not. Conversely, membership doesn't imply that a country is among the top producers - some member countries produce only a relatively small amount.

Although most of the world's top cocoa bean importers are ICCO members, there's one missing from the roster: the United States. Another top importer, Malaysia, has membership only as an exporting country. Outside the world of intergovernmental relations, there are also a number of non-governmental organizations dedicated to managing or influencing the global chocolate industry.

So next time you're munching on some tasty chocolate, remember all the geography that went into its production! Yum!


(COPAL and ICCO logos are displayed without permission, based on fair use principles.)

6 comments:

  1. In addition to the political geography of chocolate, we also need to consider its political economy.

    Chocolate is a super valuable commodity (about 1/2 of which comes from Sierra Leone and about 70% from West Africa, which narrows its geography considerably) dominated by just a few transnational mega-corporations (e.g., Nestle, Hershey's, Mars, Kraft/Cadbury), which employ, albeit indirectly, child labor, many of whom are slaves and almost none of whom have ever even tasted chocolate.

    To avoid the horrors of chocolate while still being able to enjoy it, be sure to purchase fair trade and preferably organic chocolate and, ideally, with as high of a chocolate content as possible for your palate (milk chocolate simply adds unhealthy milk fat and sugar, while so-called white chocolate isn't even chocolate at all).

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    1. Thanks for the input, Dan! I agree that there are definitely many other issues to consider about chocolate, some of which may be even more important than the political geography discussed in this article.

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    2. Just wanted to note that the majority of the world's chocolate is grown in Cote D'Ivoire, not Sierra Leone. It's followed second by Ghana.

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  2. I bet COPAL is based on some French acronym.

    I view milk fat and sugar as not being unhealthy. Milk Chocolate rocks.

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    1. A French-based acronym is usually a good guess, but that doesn't seem to be the case this time. Apparently the organization is (was?) also known as the Cocoa Producers' Alliance, which works better with the acronym.

      I like milk chocolate too!

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    2. Milk chocolate? Gross. Once you've made the switch to dark chocolate you can't go back.

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