The Dark Side of Cadbury Chocolates

In the late 1800’s, working in a factory was a job that entailed long days, unsafe working conditions, and corporate lack of interest in their employees. However, there was one company who became the ideal company, and that was Cadbury chocolates. The Cadbury company was built on Quaker values which included peace, community, equality, and virtue. Along with these basic Quaker values, the Cadbury company was involved in the Aborigines’ Protection Society and Anti-Slavery Society. Yet, in the early 1900’s the Cadbury company was accused of being hypocrites because they knowingly, were purchasing cacao from slave plantations in Sao Tome and Principe. So where did Cadbury go wrong? Were these accusations true? What actions did Cadbury take?

“In early 1901, when William A. Cadbury visited Trinidad … he was told that slave labor was used on the island of Sao Tome” (Satre 2005:18). Several months later the Cadbury brothers were offered a sale of a cacao plantation in Sao Tome. Included in the sale of the plantation were slave laborers, along with information on their salaries. “The Cadbury company which had no interest in purchasing the roca recorded in its board minutes on April 30, 1901: ‘This seems to confirm all other indirect reports that slavery, in total or in partial, exists on these Cocoa estates. We agree to assist in the investigation and if need be the publication of the facts of the case through the Anti-Slavery Society or otherwise, and William A. Cadbury is directed in the first place to see Joseph Sturge or William A. Albright and see advice in the matter’” (Satre 2005:18).  While the company did not purchase that plantation, over 45% of its cacao was coming from Sao Tome (Martin 2015: lecture 6).

Cacao slave plantation workers [1]
Cacao slave plantation workers [1]
At that time, Sao Tome and Principe were under Portuguese rule. The first step the Cadbury brothers took was through gaining information through the British consul on the area. The next step was to inquire with Joseph Struge and William A. Albright. William A. Albright was on the board of directors for the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The society created reports of slavery throughout the world and many times this did include the island of Sao Tome. Many of the reports came from missionaries reporting conditions in Africa (Satre 2005: 20).

It was not until 1905 when the Cadbury brothers hired Joseph Burtt to investigate the slave allegations taking place on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. While on the island of Sao Tome, Burtt met Henry Nevinson who was exploring and reporting on slavery in West Africa. Nevinson was an experienced journalist who travelled throughout Africa to report on slavery taking place on the continent. Nevinson was traveling to Sao Tome and Principe to explore the rumors of slavery taking place on the Portuguese ruled islands. Burtt consulted Nevison for his report on slavery on the islands, because Burtt was an inexperienced journalist, anthropologist, and lacked language skills to complete a throughout investigation. Much of what Nevison was reporting on resembled what was found in the Anti-Slavery Society reports.

A Portuguese plantation on the island of Sao Tome [2]
A Portuguese plantation on the island of Sao Tome [2]
In 1907, Burtt returns to England to work on his report of what he viewed first hand in Sao Tome and Principe. He was asked multiple times by the Cadbury company to revise and edit his report so as to not offend anyone, including the Portuguese and the Cadbury company (Higgins 2012:152).

Slowly between 1907-1909, the English public becomes more and more aware of slavery taking place on the islands and Sao Tome and Principe. However, it was not until 1909 when the majority of the public finds out that the Cadbury company knew about slavery taking place on plantations they own in Sao Tome and Principe. This happens when an article was published in The Standard. They accused the Cadbury company to continue to purchase cacao from the islands where they know slavery is taking place. This came as a very large threat to the company. This company was the ideal company to work for, they held very high standards and views of their employees. They created an ideal city that was supposed to modeled throughout England! Needless to say, the Cadbury company filed a lawsuit against The Standard. While they did win the lawsuit The Standard was asked to pay a quarter of a penny!

To view the original newspaper report of the judgement on the Cadbury case you can find it here:  

Finally, between 1909-1910 all the major British companies began boycotting all purchases from the Portuguese islands of Sao Tome and Principe, and among them was the Cadbury company (Martin 2015: lecture 6). This did not affect the Cadbury production at all because during these years, the company was looking into growing cacao in West Africa (Martin 2015: lecture 6). They were successful in the movement of cacao from Sao Tome and Principe.

Why was the Cadbury company accused of being hypocrites? The Cadbury company had clear evidence that slavery was taking place on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. However, it took the company 7 years to do anything about it. In the mean time, the company was viewed in England as a prime model and example for all of England to replicate. The brothers built a city in Bournville England around their factory to provider their factory workers with safe working conditions, breaks around exercises, and reduced housing for their employees. So while the English were enjoying their jobs, living conditions, and good pay, their fellow co-workers in Sao Tome were not treated the same.

Postcard from Sao Tome depicting cacao slave workers [3]
Postcard from Sao Tome depicting cacao slave workers [3]

Works Cited:

[1], [2] – Human History of the Sao Tome and Principe.

[3] – Coco, Cacao, Agriculture, Black Natives Workers, 1910, Postcard.

Martin, Carla D.  2015.  “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.  Lecture 6 slides.

Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business: Ohio University Press.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa: Ohio University Press.


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