By Alfie Hardman
It’s said ‘no one rings the bell at the top of the market’
Fever-Tree don’t wanna play ball, in fact, they’ve deflated it.
Taking on Marc’s scholarship brief I wanted to find a company that was growing and wanted the world to know. Like most of my future peers I opted to plummet a company’s stock price instead of making it rise and well, with all this hype surrounding Fever-Tree I thought I’d do some research. What started as a bit of innocent web-browsing quickly turned into an obsessive desire to see through the murkiness surrounding Fever-Trees plantations in The Democratic Republic of Congo.
All we know is that they are opposite the Rwandan border, in a district called Kivu. The history of this district is bleak and continues to be. What became known as ‘Africa’s first world war’ has its roots here when conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda spread west and over the border into Zaire. It quickly became a war of snatch and grab due to the rich natural resources of the DRC. From this spiralled a civil war that toppled president Mobutu for Kabila and re-named Zaire for The Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the Eastern Congo, Kivu still harbours rebels that oppose Kabila’s government. As well as this Kabila now pays the militia group M23 to viciously suppress peaceful demonstrations fronted by civilians in the war-torn area. The irony lies in the fact that M23 were originally fighting against Kabila, yet the fresh funds have radically changed some of the fighter’s loyalties.
It is now this very district that Fever-Tree its buys produce by harvesting the quinoa tree to provide all the quinine for their tonic water. The CEO Tim Warrillow even describes the area as having ‘devastation all around the planation…’ Even with hardship growing and a whopping 13 million needing aid (twice as many as last year) statistically every second someone this year has drunk a Fever-Tree tonic resulting in a 96% sale growth in the UK alone. How do they secure the purchase of goods in such a volatile area and export so much of this valuable necessity? In a lawless area were ‘anyone can exploit the militia’ – (Julien Paluko, Governor of North Kivu) they won’t say.
Kabila’s government is currently delaying elections and retaining the right to rule until an adequate opposition presents itself, while at the same time hiring M23 war veterans. Simultaneously Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord and vice-president, and Félix Tshisekedi, son of one of the DRC’s most well-known opposition politicians grow in popularity and are set on causing civil unrest; the question is, can Fever-Tree expect to carry on business as usual quietly behind the scenes? Do they feel an obligation to do what they can to ease the conflict, while at the same time make huge profits from its natural resources? If not, what then separates their intentions from the DRC’s neighbouring countries that also tried to profit from Congolese land?
Yes, the jobs that are made available by their trade might well provide stability, security from the chaos around them and perhaps educational facilities for the workers families too, but why the hold up in what would also be good advertising material? The likely answer, because they’re not doing it.