Cadbury’s Ethical Decisions in Britain vs. São Tomé, and the Place of Chocolate Slavery Today


“In 1900, a workweek at Cadbury’s factory was forty-eight hours long, and the company required promptness and efficiency from its employees.  File cards recorded the work history of each employee, and rule violations could lead to dismissal”. (Chocolate on Trial, 11, Cadbury and the World of Slave Labor, on working conditions in the Birmingham factory)


“The servicais were paid once a month.  The pay was considerably less than the minimum required by the decree of 1903, and the owners did not even deduct a portion for the required reparation fund, as they knew none of the laborers would ever be returned to their homeland”. (Chocolate on Trial, 19, Cadbury and the World of Slave Labor, on slave labor working conditions in São Tomé)

 Birmingham, England, the most populated city in England, outside of London, was home to the start of the Cadbury company.  Cadbury was originated by John Cadbury (below front row center) in 1824; his sons were the successors (below back row right) in 1919 when Cadbury went through a decline due to a loss of employees and sales.  Business rose in 1924 and increased from then on (  São Tomé, in the Gulf of Guinea, was barely visited until the Portuguese nestled there hoping to grow and maintain sugar (worldatlas).  Birmingham housed Cadbury’s first factory and village called Bournville; São Tomé was the island inhabiting slaves starting in the early nineteenth century lingering well into the twentieth century.  The Cadbury company story is one of eager development, a family owned organization wanting to achieve greatness but may have naively not known how to maintain it.  In this post, I will briefly examine the ethical reasons behind Cadbury doing business in Britain vs. São Tomé, whether or not they had a choice to resort to slave labor and operate a successful business, and conclude by professing the ugly truth that child slavery is still happening today.


Conditions at Bournville were not ideal, but the factory and village employed employees and sustained growth.  In 1901, William Cadbury (successor, above middle back row) visited Trinidad after being told that slave labor was taking place in São Tomé; William went to investigate, as no Cadbury executive wanted to be associated with slave labor (Chocolate on Trial, 18).  “William Cadbury demonstrated that while he was against the use of slave labor, he did not equate the labor of São Tomé to that of other forms of slavery reported in Africa”. (Chocolate on Trial, 19).  How do the ethics of the Cadburys come into play; are they compromised?  The business ethics in Bournville seemed somehow more realistic, sought out, and convenient for the start of the company; São Tomé conditions were poor and it has been said that “Given extreme evidence, it is surprising that the Cadbury’s had not recognized this slavery early on”. (Chocolate on Trial, 21)


A controversial topic, it is undoubtedly possible for a successful family owned company advertising their products as “no chemicals used”, “pure”, and “natural”, to condone slave labor in São Tomé in order to increase profits and stay competitive.  Did the Cadbury’s adhere to slavery to enhance their business, and if so, can we blame them?  Careful not to judge immediately.  Any form of slaved labor can be construed as wrong and vial, however, what should the Cadbury’s have done instead that would still equal significant growth at little to no cost to them?  Businesses such as Cadbury often do whatever it takes to become successful, even if that means the use of child labor and enforced slavery.  In the early 1900’s (and still do this day!), when resources were scarce and reliable workers were few and far, slaves worked for little to no money.  I do not support slavery of any kind or condone the behavior of the Cadbury family, especially if they knew slaved labor was occurring, however, I wonder what alternatives they would have had and if their business would have thrived as much as it did in England, if they were not utilizing slaves in São Tomé.  I am not insinuating that the use of slaves was right on Cadbury’s part; I am just unsure how they would have grown as as they did had they gone a different route.  We are all aware that many forms of slavery still exist today, so what has changed since the nineteenth century?  Cadbury is a giant success and forced labor is still widely prevalent.

Chocolate Child Slaves, CNN,

The above video conducted by CNN shows how child slavery still occurs today in places like the Ivory Coast.


Western African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa (Child Labor and Slavery, etc.).  Some may wonder what prompts children and other laborers to sacrifice their lives and work on cocoa farms.  Mostly it is because they have to support themselves and their families and have no choice but to live in poor conditions and make less than poverty level rates.  Others are trafficked and falsely informed that they will earn decent money while on the cocoa farms, when instead they earn than $2 per day (Child Labor and Slavery, etc.) or nothing at all.  To this day, child labor is still existent in Western Africa and children face issues such as chemical intoxication from weapons and work devises, and are deprived from a meaningful education which is both detrimental to their futures and illegal.  Organizations such as the International Labor Organization are making efforts to put a stop to child slave labor and other forms of labor, but are not getting far enough.  Unfortunately little has been done to put a stop to this form of labor and I fear that as long as companies are able to hire children or adults at little to not cost and keep their products competitive, as Cadbury did, it likely never will.

Picture & Video Sources:

Web. 8 Mar. 2015. <;.

Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <;.

Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

“Chocolate Child Slaves- CNN.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.

Works Cited:

“Cadbury Australia.” Cadbury Australia. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. <;.

Satre, Lowell J. “Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery.” Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 2005. 11, 12, 15, 19, 21. Print.

“SAO TOME.” Sao Tome Map / Geography of Sao Tome / Map of Sao Tome. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <;.

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <;.


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