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Worldaware conference July 2002 comment

Worldaware Conference @ Butchers Hall, London Workshop 1 - Discussion with Masterfoods (previously Mars) Report, By Stephen Clarke.

On 8th July, A number of year: 10, 9, 8 and sixth form students from Hampstead School attended a conference organised by Worldaware, on the topic of globalisation. The Conference was held at Butcher's Hall in the city of London, there was a number of representatives from BP, Sainsburys, Masterfoods, Save the Children and many more.

There were also a number of sixth form students from other schools. We were split into 8 groups and throughout the day we took part in 3 workshops. I was in group C and the other Hampstead student in that group was Ella.

Our first workshop was a discussion with representatives from Masterfoods, the company that produces Mars, Snickers, Galaxy and many other chocolate bars. This is my report on that workshop:

The topic of the discussion was the Cocoa bean trade and how Masterfoods purchases their Cocoa beans from Western Africa. We also discussed the quality of life of the Cocoa farmers and other issues surrounding the Cocoa trade.

From the outset the representatives were keen to show how they were helping the farmers and had their best interests at heart. They told us that they encouraged the farmers to grow other crops so they weren't just solely dependant on their Cocoa beans and how they tried to educate the farmers to grow better quality cocoa beans.

They also told us that they support the growth of education for the farming community. I thought that this claim of "helping the farmers" was rather dubious as it was in Masterfoods best interest that good quality cocoa beans were grown and I do not think that the farmers would be paid more for better quality beans. I also thought that they only encouraged the farmers to grow other crops so that they could just stay in business to grow beans for Masterfoods.

Masterfoods supporting education was slightly hypocritical as they openly agreed that children were working on the farms, but they still protested that this wouldn't have any affect on their education. We also discussed the idea of which was more important quality or profit. When I asked a representative this question they replied "they are equally important as quality brings profit" but in my opinion I felt that the company was more interested in profit and the quality was just what they could get away with.

Later on in the discussion we asked the company about the quality of life of the cocoa farmers. They denied that the farmers lived below the poverty line and maintained that they "weren't bottom of the pile", though they told us that the farmers had no electricity and no transport. The company also agreed that the farmers only receive a tiny percentage from the sale of a chocolate bar even though cocoa is the key ingredient and Masterfoods "couldn't do without it".

Later on in the discussion Masterfoods addressed the question that some farmers were using child labour and some children were captured and kept as slaves they told us that this claim was being investigated and farmers were being contacted to find out the truth in these accusations. Although this has to be a good thing I am not sure that the complete truth will come out as farmers would obviously deny using child labour and may threaten workers to keep quiet. All in all I found the workshop very useful and productive I wasn't completely sure that all of Masterfood's claims were genuine though I do think that they are going in the right direction. I think that a lot more must be done if full equal trade can be reached between farmers and Masterfoods.

Stephen

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