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Words by Mikaela Davis
Photography by Emily Grundy

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Easter is over for another year and the chocolate hangover is wearing off. For most of us, chocolate is a delicious treat, even though we feel a bit guilty for devouring that family size block. But are we feeling guilty for the wrong reasons? For chocolate to even reach our salivating mouths, cocoa has to be farmed, but not all of it under ideal conditions. According to research conducted in 2010 by Tulane University, over 1.8 million children in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana work in cocoa-related activities. While not all of these are victims of forced child labour (the 2005 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) report estimates that number to be at least 280,000 children), many work under hazardous conditions.

The Ivory Coast provides 43 per cent of the world’s cocoa supply and according to the ILO, houses at least 200,000 children working on the farms. Each day, these children are expected to perform perilous and sometimes life-threatening tasks, such as applying pesticides without proper protection. Beyond this, an investigative report taken out by the British Broadcasting Company found that children would work for at least 80 hours a week. To put that into perspective, most managers of Australian retail stores are only allowed to work 48 hours per week. This, of course, leaves little time for any sort of education.

But it doesn’t stop there. It has been reported that many of these children are victims of child trafficking. They would be either sold to human traffickers by their parents in poverty-stricken countries or stolen from their homes. The ILO found that 12,000 children in the Ivory Coast didn’t have any relatives in the area, indicating that they may have been trafficked.

A strong advocate for removing forced child labour from the cocoa industry is Oxfam Australia. Their shops only carry Fairtrade Certified products, including chocolate. As the evidence of forced child labour and trafficking in the cocoa industry piled up, the term ‘ethical eating’ gained traction. Society has gained a conscience when it comes down to what we’re putting in our mouths. Nandini Guharoy, manager of the Carlton Oxfam store, agrees. “I think ethical eating is trying to do your best and trying to purchase foods that have the Fairtrade tick,” she says.

Fairtrade makes sure that farmers in third world countries are getting paid an appropriate amount for their produce. Their goal is to first move the farmers out of poverty so that they can pay their workers. “We get asked questions like: ‘Why is a bar of chocolate $4.50?’ The simple answer is that…it’s a Fairtrade bar of chocolate and we pay [the farmers] a lot more than a larger, private company would,” Guharoy says.

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In Australia, the highest selling block of chocolate is Cadbury DairyMilk. Since 2010, this block of chocolate has been Fairtrade Certified. However, according to World Vision Australia, Nestlé and Cocolo are the only two major chocolate brands that stock 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified products in Australia.

Since May 2012, the University of Melbourne has been a certified Fairtrade university, which saw the instigation of the Fair Trade Steering Committee (FTSC). Their job is to encourage the university community to use Fairtrade products in order to make a difference. On campus, 15 outlets serve Fairtrade approved tea and coffee. According to the FTSC’s annual report, “the number of Fair Trade tea/coffee units purchased from January to November 2012 was 585 and from January to November 2013 were 1,497. This equates to an increase of 273 per cent”.

Accordingly, the UMSU-affiliated Oxfam Group has thrown its support behind the initiative.

“We are planning a campaign about promoting Fairtrade approved chocolate and confectionery on campus, but that comes down to the shops’ discretion,” a representative from the club said.

Over the 13 years that Guharoy has been working in Oxfam stores, she has seen a sharp increase in Fairtrade products being sold. “[Awareness] keeps growing every year…thanks to a lot of the younger generation who are extremely aware of ethical eating, Fairtrade products and the cruelties out there,” Guharoy explains.

Despite Fairtrade’s best efforts to eradicate forced child labour from West African cocoa farms, the fight to stamp it out completely is far from over. For Guharoy, it’s horrendous that a child will put their life at risk so that we can enjoy a cheeky endorphin hit. “It moves you to tears.”

Words by Bonny Ross
Illustration by Harry McLean

“Can you accept this?” the medium asks, relaying snippets of information to the man with a mullet seated two rows ahead of me. This spirit was a quiet person, she says, which makes her hand flutter over her mouth.

“Can you accept what I’m saying to you?”

Founded in 1870, the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union (VSU) currently has around 400 members. As a legally recognised religion, the union can perform weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies. Their faith is based on a single, simple belief in the survival of the soul after death.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I attended a regular Sunday service, especially having never been to church before. Would it be like an evangelical service from American television? Would there be a crystal ball and mystical seizures and a lot of fringed shawls?

The church hosts a modest audience, around 60 at the most, and only one or two other attendees are younger than 45. Most of the congregation is women and only one of the six speakers, or demonstrators, is male. A few members of the congregation are clearly ill, and several healings take place behind a curtain in a back room before the service begins.

The two demonstrating mediums perform in a surprisingly familiar way, relaying the spirits’ messages in a similar manner to the depictions of mediums in trashy women’s magazines and on television. It feels jarring when compared to the casual, unrehearsed feel of the earlier parts of the service.

Spiritualism came out of America in the 1840s as an overnight sensation. The Fox sisters—Leah, Margaret and Kate—of New York are credited with starting the movement in 1848. Many others followed suit, leading to the founding of The Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists (now VSU) in Melbourne in 1870.

Women in particular were among the most famous of the performing mediums, and the movement pushed for both female suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, is one of the most famous early followers of the movement, holding séances in the White House while mourning the death of their son. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the notoriously rationalist Sherlock Holmes, famously had a falling out with Harry Houdini over Spiritualism – Doyle was convinced of Houdini’s supernatural powers, while Houdini tried in vain to convince Doyle that all mediums were frauds.

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Many mediums proved to be fraudulent, not surprising given the financial reward that came with their ability to draw crowds of thousands. The frequency of fraud accusations meant that by the late 1800s Spiritualism was on the wane. The 1920s saw the movement split into three directions: syncretism, survivalism, and the Spiritualist Church.

Common to all forms of Spiritualism, however, is the emphasis on the scientific investigation of spiritualist beliefs, with the faith basing itself upon ‘observable facts’. The VSU website has a page dedicated to ‘Scientific Investigation’, including information about previously sceptical scientists who became converts and an explanation of string theory that supports the existence of a spirit realm.

At the Sunday service, guest speaker Trish Roche, president of the Lilydale and District Spiritual Church, Inc., jokes about the ‘phases’ that Spiritualism has gone through—Egyptian, Native American, an obsession with crystals. She talks about the way spirits communicate today, with a wealth of media at their wispy fingertips (the departed son of a close friend played her Coldplay from the car radio; they like to communicate through music now). These days, it’s less about tapping and Ouija boards and more about details—observation, as Sherlock Holmes would have it. Music is popular with the VSU, with several songs during the service. The songbook handed to us—a plastic folder filled with photocopies —contains a number of traditional hymns as well: ‘What a Wonderful World’ and ABBA’s ‘I Have a Dream’. As people take their seats the organist plays ‘Life is a Cabaret’, followed by what I think is ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’.

“I will tell you this,” Reverend Carol Crawford-Kerr, one of the demonstrating mediums, says. “It’s about empathy.”

She explains that the patter on stage is the result of years of training designed to understand a gift she’s had from childhood; a gift she found terrifying. Crawford-Kerr does not advertise and accepts no payment for her services. The members of the church understand what it’s like to lose a loved one, and what it’s like to hear from them again. They have no interest in politics. If and when same-sex marriage becomes legal, they will perform them. Spiritualists take no official stance on abortion, but will connect women with their aborted babies if desired. The Reverend confesses to me that the Christian aspects of the Spiritualist service exist mostly to comply with government regulations about what defines a religion. All they really want is to connect with and understand spirits.

While the history of Spiritualism is plagued with fraudulent mediums and dubious evidence, the modern day church provides something very real: comfort and community. And as for the ‘science’ behind it all? Well, nothing has been disproved yet.

Words by Jacob Atkins

Last December, I was channel-surfing at a friend’s house in an Israeli kibbutz when I caught the final few minutes of Waltz with Bashir. The Israeli film follows one man who has mentally blocked his involvement in the 1982 Lebanon War as a solider in the Israel Defence Forces. In the final, hypnotic scene, he suddenly remembers standing by—on orders—as Christian phalangists entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. We now know that the Phalangists massacred between 700 and 800 Palestinians (possibly more) over the course of three days. The final moments of the film, which is otherwise entirely animated, are made up of real footage from the aftermath of the slaughter. A baby girl’s still face rests among the rubble. Between the ruined homes, old women and young men lie facedown like fallen dominoes. Sitting there on the couch, I recalled that the man who permitted the Israeli soldiers to allow the Phlangists entry was then-Defence Minister Ariel Sharon.

A few weeks later in Jerusalem, my phone buzzed with a news alert: “Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, has died.”

Sharon was cut down in his prime. He went into a coma in January 2006, just a few months after he had successfully, if traumatically, evicted 8000 Israeli settlers and the soldiers guarding them from the Gaza Strip. This event is now considered symbolic of his transformation from hawk to dove. Despite its consequences—namely, the periodical wars Israel fights with Hamas—it is this decision that has defined the physical legacy Sharon left for Israel.

The left warmed up to him, while on the right there was widespread disillusionment with the man who used to be their standard bearer. Many began to loathe him.

Dr Ariel Zellman from the Hebrew University believes that Sharon was pushing at an open door as he gathered national support for the disengagement. “The question became this debate between ‘do we have security by controlling the territory, or do we have more security by removing these people that are seen as irritants, that become targets who decrease our security?’”

Zellman nominates another of Sharon’s arguments that fell on fertile ground in the Israeli mainstream: demography. The fear that if Israel did not start gingerly extricating itself from the Palestinian territories it occupied, it would over time lose the Jewish majority that is its raison d’etre. According to biographer David Landau, the last official meeting Sharon had, prior to his hemorrhagic stroke, was with a demographer on the subject of finding ways to make non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis procreate more enthusiastically.

Personally, I had always imagined Sharon as a warm man—a stereotypically elderly Israeli. The type that holds court at an ancient hummuserie with his old Army mates, or sits at the front of the bus and chats with the driver. I’d also read that—like Nelson Mandela—he was partial to gossiping. Mossi Raz, a left-wing lawmaker during the start of Sharon’s premiership, told me “he was a very funny person, he used to tell lots of jokes”.

How does that square with the Sharon of Lebanon, who the Palestinians called ‘The Butcher’? The jolly grandpa that Human Rights Watch considered a war criminal?

“Some people can be loving family people and still be horrible persons. That’s not the story with Ariel Sharon,” TV and radio commentator Tammi Moled-Hayo explains. “The story with him is very, very deep racism. There is one Ariel Sharon for Jews and Jews who agreed with him, and a second for everyone else. If you were not a Jew you were less than a person, and that was the way he acted,”

But the left in Israel has quite a forgiving streak when it comes to Sharon, and not just because he ended up co-opting their policy of upping sticks from Gaza. At the end of the 2006, when Sharon was virtually incapacitated, veteran peacenik Yoel Marcus penned a column in Ha’aretz, yearningly titled ‘We Miss You, Sharon’. “He was the man who roused this country from its dreams and delusions, and paved the way for a Palestinian state,” he wrote.

“In his way, he did whatever he thought was needed for the good of Israel. That’s why when you talk to the left we have a soft spot for him, because we believe his motives were the right ones,” Moled-Hayo says.

The times had changed from the first Lebanon War, when there was a song that went: “land, airplane, please land and take us to the sky”. Mossi Raz says soldiers angry with the war used to sing: “Land, please land and take us to Lebanon, we’re going to fight for Sharon and come back dead”.