Fixing (Child) Slavery: We Must Look Home

In lecture, Professor Martin stated that, “Labor rights issues in cacao production are nothing new. They are tradition.” This is exactly the problem with the historical narrative of cacao and chocolate: the labor rights and slavery issues have not changed significantly and in many ways the issue has increased in severity with reports of rampant child slavery. Unfortunately, looking back into cacao and chocolate’s history of slavery and the numerous efforts to banish slavery completely, and have those efforts be ignored and fail, is a cruel reminder of the difficult task advocators of clean chocolate face. However, there is one company that perhaps deserves a deeper look at in order to see how a big chocolate company can approach the scandal of slavery and work to see that it is abolished. This company is Cadbury, the British multinational chocolate company.

Founded in 1824, almost 192 years ago, by John Cadbury, the company has had a history of slavery. The troubles of the Cadbury slavery issues began in 1901, when William Cadbury, a nephew of George (son of John Cadbury who took over in 1861), visited Cadbury cocoa farms in Trinidad and hears reports about slave labor on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. This was a shocking discovery given that the British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery throughout most of the British Empire in 1834, legally freeing almost 800,000 slaves in the West Indies (Martin, Lecture). While William was aware of the issues of slavery and their cacao farms in Sao Tome and Principe (STP), it was not until at least four years later, in 1905 that the Cadbury family sent Joseph Burtt, a relatively inexperienced researched to report and investigate the conditions of the Cadbury cacao farms in Africa and STP (Coe & Coe) Burtt confirmed what Henry Nevinson, a British journalist who investigated slavery in the early 1900’s, had been reporting on: slavery still existed although it was meant to be abolished.


The book published by Henry Nevinson on his discovers of slavery during post-abolish times in the 1900’s. His title sadly still applies to our society today – a modern slavery as child labor now. 

Here is where we can see the connections to cacao farming and child slavery in our modern age. It has long been illegal for child labor to exist, although more and more claims are being released and studied that call attention to the fact that child labor is very much still a large part of cacao farming. Most recently even, on March 1st of this year (this month), a reporter by the name of Brian O’Keefe reflecting on how big chocolate makers have made promises to end child labor in their industry but there still exists at least 2.1 million West African children working on cacao farms (O’Keefe). O’Keefe’s disappointment with the promises of big chocolate companies today speaks to the pace at which the Cadbury company slave scandal made it out to the general public scandal. It was only in 1909 that a report was published about Cadbury’s actions, almost a whole eight years after the clear evidence of slavery was found in STP. It took years to build up the voice and courage to attack a giant such as Cadbury’s. This, I believe, is what we still face today – a fear of attacking the giants, of being ostracized, as in the end, it seems like the big chocolate company always wins – as Cadbury did in the end, since Cadbury still exists today and relatively few know of it’s torturous past. While Cadbury was the first mainstream chocolate brand to become Fairtrade certified, we can’t help but think child labor slavery is looming in the background of the Cadbury Crème eggs, that Cadbury is hiding child labor now as it once did in the early 1900’s (


Cadbury ad advocating for the support of Fairtrade. However, just as before, we need to look further into Cadbury’s labor practices – consumer driven grass roots research would be “taking a step” as the ad focuses on. 

Brian O’Keefe, in his article, poses the important question: what will it take to fix the problem? I believe the problem cannot be left to reporters or companies researchers anymore, the problem belongs to the consumers. At Oxford in 1839, Herman Merivale wrote:

We speak of the blood-cemented fabric of the prosperity of New Orleans or the Havanna: let us look at home. What raised Liverpool and Manchester from provincial towns to gigantic cities? What maintains now their ever active industry and their rapid accumulation of wealth? The exchange of their produce with that raised by the American slaves; and their present opulence is as really owing to the toil and suffering of the negro, as if his hands had excavated their docks and fabricated their steam-engines…

Every trader who carries on commerce with those countries, from the great house 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 (Martin, Lecture).

We must look at home to fix cacao slavery. We must look at our chocolate bars and be responsible for finding out how it was made and speak up if we believe it to be made from child’s hands or from coerced workers.


This photo is from the FORTUNE magazine article by O’Keefe- child labor is the slavery of our modern time. 


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. N.p.: n.p., 1986. Print.

O’Keefe, Brian. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” FORTUNE 1 Mar. 2016: n. pag. Print.



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