True price of chocolate

Danish journalist Miki Mistrati to talk on child trafficking in Dubai

Area Guides
Area Guides
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Designed to inspire, inform and challenge the way people in the UAE think, local discussion event BOLDTalks 2012 will see four very different speakers take to the stage on Saturday February 25 to discuss the intriguing and the controversial. Certified genius and ‘human calculator’ Rudiger Gamm will attempt to help the audience unlock the supposedly dormant 80 per cent of their brain, while Luis Urzua, the last miner to leave the collapsed Copiapó mine in Chile in 2010, will be on hand to talk about his experience. Juxtaposed against this tale of liberation, speaker Vern Pike will talk about the incidents that led to the creation of the Berlin Wall and his role as first officer of Checkpoint Charlie.

Addressing a very different issue is investigative journalist and documentary maker Miki Mistrati. Since the release of his acclaimed 2010 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, which saw him go undercover to expose child trafficking and slavery in the Ivory Coast from 2008 to 2010, the 44-year-old Dane has campaigned to persuade the chocolate industry to take responsible action.

Throughout a career that has spanned 40 documentaries, Mistrati is considered by some to be a serial troublemaker, and many others to be a committed seeker of the truth. His considerations are more serious than contemporaries such as Morgan Spurlock, and his tone less mischievous than Michael Moore. On one particular visit to west Africa, he was unfortunate enough to find himself face to face with an AK47, wielded by bribe-seeking gang members. It didn’t stop him going back, but how did it all start?

‘The documentary actually began in my local supermarket,’ he explains. ‘I was there to buy some chocolate and I saw seven bars, all the same, in different flavours. But one had a Fair Trade stamp on it, and I wondered why the other six didn’t. Were they un-Fair Trade?’ Mistrati explains that the blatant exploitation of children is what made this a project worth pursuing. ‘There’s nothing more important than combating the mistreatment and enslavement of kids. On these plantations they’re working with pesticides and heavy loads and machetes, and they get hurt. They don’t get paid,’ he explains.

In answer to protestations that this is the norm in developing countries, he explains this instance is very much the opposite. ‘This is not a normal working situation where a family is using their own kids. These are kids who are victims of trafficking, who have been trafficked from neighbouring countries into the Ivory Coast, and they have to work for free. This is slavery. I thought slavery was consigned to history, but it’s still going on in the modern world.’

After following traffickers on one particular occasion, filming using hidden cameras, Mistrati reveals he was confronted with a situation many journalists in such circumstances often battle with. ‘We met a small boy from Mali at a bus station in the Ivory Coast, a victim of trafficking, and he was crying. Do you know what was so heartbreaking? I had to consider whether I, as a human being, should rescue him, or simply cover the story as a journalist. It was so difficult. I just wanted to rescue the boy, but it wasn’t an option,’ he explains sadly.

Mistrati says he doesn’t expect the world to change overnight, but by coming to Dubai and speaking at the BOLDTalks event, he hopes it will encourage consumers to think. ‘I hope next time someone is going to buy a bar of chocolate, they’re wondering if it’s made by children and, if they’re not happy with that, maybe they’ll do something about it. It’s not just chocolate: it could be the clothes they’re wearing that have been made somewhere like Bangladesh,’ he explains. ‘I hope to inspire people to become more critical consumers, so they think for a moment about what it is they’re about to purchase.’ Mistrati explains that if his talk causes one out of 1,000 people to stop and think before they buy, he will be happy, and will have a little more hope for the children on the Ivory Coast’s plantations.
BOLDTalks 2012 takes place on February 25 at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates. Tickets cost Dhs200 and are available from the venue or online at www.boldtalks.com. Order a copy of The Dark Side of Chocolate from www.laborrights.org/what-you-can-do.

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