The long road from slavery to fair trade..

In the 16th century people found out a new way to use human labor: chattel slavery was born. Chattel slavery means that slaves are personal property of an owner and are bought and sold as commodities. Because of the growing prosperity in the US there was a lack of labor. First Indians were used to work for the rich. When it appeared that Indians were not suitable for this tough labor they were replaced by Africans. As a result, from 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans survived forced transport across the Atlantic. They were shipped under very bad circumstances, and on the way a lot of slaves died because of bad treatment or disease. These slaves were shipped to what was called the ‘New World’, nowadays Northern America. The huge amount of slaves deported to the ‘New World’ caused massive demographic change.

A ship on which slaves were transported.

Because of the horrible circumstances life expectancy of a slave was very short. In the Caribbean and Brazil this was only 7 to 8 years as a slave. These countries totally depended on the import of new slaves from Africa for their workforce, therefore they needed a lot of slaves. Life expectation for a slave in Northern America was 35 years. The circumstances were still very bad, but the slave owners were relying on procreation. The slaves would work in tobacco, sugar, cacao, cotton or rice industry. They worked very long shifts every day and the work they would do would often require great skill. For example: cutting of the cacao pods of the Theobroma cacao is a skill that has to be developed.

Slavery on a Sugar plantation.

In Northern America in 1833 an association was formed against slavery. This association wanted abolition of slavery. They stood up for the slaves. Britain was the first country to abolish slave trade in 1834, followed by several other countries. In January 1863 President Lincoln signed his emancipation proclamation, which gave all slaves in the Confederacy freedom. On the 31st of January 1865 the Senate of the Confederacy added the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, in which slavery was officially abolished in the entire Confederacy. When slavery was abolished, there was a big scar for the former slaves. They still lived in poor conditions and had to deal with discrimination.

Nowadays there still is slavery in the world. It is not as intense as it used to be, but there are changes that should be made. Approximately 60% of the cacao comes from Ivory Coast and Ghana. To satisfy the global demand for chocolate, about 2.5 million farmers work in the chocolate industry in these countries. These farmers earn little money and live in poverty. The big chocolate companies like Mars and Hershey’s are the ones in the chocolate industry that get rich. Fair trade food has become very popular in the western civilization. The chocolate bar ‘Tony’s,’ is a bar that produces 100% slave free chocolate. Their chocolate bar is not divided into equal parts. They decided to make a statement about the inequality in the cacao trade by dividing their chocolate bars into unequal pieces.

A ‘Tony’s’ chocolate bar.


Lecture slides, Harvard Extension School.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. (1985) New York: Penguin.


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