Cadbury and Sao Tome

Slavery has been an integral part of production of cacao for a long time. Even after its abolition by many states in the 19th and 20th century, forced labor continued to remain in reality in many of the colonies and plantation sites. The quote presented in lecture “Freeing the Negro without freeing the land is but half an abolition” by a Brazilian abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco well represents how changes in law is not enough to truly eradicate slavery from the society.

The case of Portuguese West Africa in the early 20th century is an instance where nominal abolition of slavery did not fully eradicate it. Portugal had abolished slavery in the 1870s,

Shackles left on trees convinced Nevinson that slavery was still active in Portuguese West Africa.

and had replaced it with a state-supported system of contract labor, “wherein government agents certified that natives could sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor at a set wage” (Satre, 2). When an English journalist Henry Nevinson visited Portuguese West Africa, he observed multiple indications that slavery is still alive such as human bones that littered sides of a trail on which captured slaves were thought to have walked on, and shackles that had bound hands and legs to prevent escape of the slaves which were left on the trees to be recovered by later trading parties (Satre 1). By the end of his trip, Nevinson concluded that the contract labor is simply another form of slavery (Satre 2).



Portrait of William Cadbury

Parallel to Nevinson’s visit, William Cadbury, owners of one of the largest chocolate companies in England at the time, had sent Joseph Burtt, a young Quaker, also to investigate the allegations that the plantation on the island of Sao Tome was using enslaved labor (Satre 13). He returned to England with similar accounts on the situation regarding slavery and submitted a report to Cadbury, but there was a significant delay in his accounts reaching the public due to several reasons. First, the Foreign Office requested Cadbury to edit certain sections of the report that may offend the Portuguese government, and Cadbury complied (Higgs 133). Second, Burtt’s report was to be endowed not only by Cadbury but also by his fellow chocolate makers, Fry, Rowntree, and Cologne. As a result of there being multiple players, “the flurry of letters continued through June and into July as the final form of Burtt’s report was negotiated” (Higgs 135).


Nevertheless, Nevinson’s report and Burtt’s report were not enough to convince Cadbury to boycott the purchase of cacao from Sao Tome, perhaps due to its high quality and attractive price. It was only after receiving criticism from three major British journals and securing apologies for them that he resolved to visit the islands and Angola himself (Higgs 143). After his six-month trip from September 1908 to March 1909, he was finally convinced of the ongoing slavery and the Portuguese government’s inability to enforce abolition. Within a week of his return to England, Cadbury formally decided to stop buying cocoa from the chocolate islands (Higgs 148).

It took four years for Cadbury to boycott buying cacao from these islands since Nevinson’s

The distance between Britain and Sao Tome delayed Cadbury’s decision, given the transportation means available in the early 20th century.

initial visit. One major cause of the delay was friction in communication and transportation. We see that the interaction between the Foreign Office, Cadbury, and the fellow chocolate makers were done over multiple mails, which obviously slowed down the process, maybe at times causing confusion and misunderstanding. Further, each visit to the chocolate islands from England ranged over multiple months; the dedication that these trips required may have deterred Cadbury from visiting the sites earlier.


Today, most of these frictions have been removed thanks to technological advances, and slavery has decreased significantly since the 20th century. Yet, modern chocolate industry still involves enforced labor to an extent. Why this cannot be cleared given improved communication and transport shall become clear in Unit 3 of the course.


Works cited:

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165

Multimedia sources cited:

World Atlas (

William A Cadbury Chariatble Fund (

Chomping At The Blooded Bit (



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