We’re often held captive to the things we love. Obsession can lead to addiction and before we know it, we’re a slave to the very pleasures that give us freedom. The greedy CEO of a major chocolate company is a slave to the money that the chocolate crazed consumer, bound in sweetly dipped chains, so willingly hands over for a morsel of the decadent byproducts that the slaves of cacao plantations farm rigorously as the only means to provide for themselves and their family. What began as a food of the gods has turned into a food of the slaves. It’s a circle of captivity; each player is bound by their own worldly shackles.
Herman Merivale, the prominent British colonial administrator, wrote “Every trader who carries on commerce with those countries, from the great house that which lends its name and funds to support the credit of the American bank, down to the Birmingham merchant who makes a shipment of shackles to Cuba or the coast of Africa, is in his own way an upholder of slavery: and I do not see how any consumer who drinks coffee or wears cotton can escape from the same sweeping charge” (Merivale p.113). It’s this concept of which everyone is implicated. In relation to cacao, we’re all intertwined in the involvement of inequality.
Mintz writes, “We must struggle to understand fully the consequences of that and kindred events, for upon them was erected an entirely different conception of the relationship between producers and consumers, of the meaning of work, of the definition of self, of the nature of things. What commodities are, and what commodities mean, would thereafter be forever different. And for that same reason, what persons are, and what being a person means, changed accordingly. In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of ourselves” (Mintz p. 214). Mintz is referring to the indigenous slaves being forced into cheap labor. He is arguing the way people have altered their relationship with goods by commoditizing them. Conditions of production and the conditions of consumption can vary and when people or companies don’t have an understanding of labor abuses going on in order to make that commodity achievable, it then becomes a “false commodity”. The slaves were also purchased and sold for their capacity to yield another generation of enslaved “people-commodities.”
Even years after the abolition of slave labor, inequality and cheap labor still exist. Perhaps we can’t title it “slavery” because it doesn’t quite fit the mold, but our lack of public knowledge holds us all captive to the cruelties of this billion dollar industry. If we could just consider how much any of us can claim to know about the productive forces that help give shape to our lives, the products we consume, and the living conditions of the producers, maybe then we can finally break free. Somewhere along the line, we stopped looking at where cacao came from and how chocolate came about because of the negative connotation that drew from its history. Perhaps, however, ignorance is bliss. Blissfully sweet.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed, 1983. Print.