Ebola and Your Chocolate Bar

I picked up a few extra dark chocolate bars at the checkout counter today at the grocery store. It never occurred to me that they might be my last in a very long while.

While the human cost of the Ebola crisis is holding our attention for now, other consequences are on the minds of those who move commodities like cocoa beans around the globe.

Two thirds of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa. While Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are at the center of the current outbreak, other West African countries are on the lookout for the spread of the virus. Among them are the top producers of cocoa beans in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Togo. Some chocolate candy companies are, as one spokesperson from Nestlé said, “On high alert.”[1]

The flow of cocoa beans to the producers of chocolate bars, not to mention the other cocoa-infused food items, just might find their supply chain disrupted as container ships full of beans are either not allowed to leave their West African ports or refused entry in ports where processors anxiously await their shipments.

Insurance companies try to plan for these acts of God or events beyond their control. Insurance policies call these situations  “forces majeurs.” These unforeseen events could completely disrupt the food supply chain until the spread of Ebola abates. At a minimum, the spread of Ebola may delay ships or add to the costs of shipping as procedures are put in place by governments to allow for added security procedures and inspections.

Determining liability for those who operate within the food supply chain will occupy lawyers for years, since it is unclear if Ebola qualifies as an unforeseen act out of anyone’s control. And lawyers from different countries will inevitably resort to their own legal interpretations, only further complicating matters.

For now, I’ll grab a few extra dark chocolate bars when I’m in the grocery store and continue to discover how the world’s food supply chain in connected to almost every other system in our lives.

 

 

 

[1] Ebola Rattles, Commodities, The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2014

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