The Slave Trade and Challenges to Abolition in Cacao and Sugar Growing Regions from Colonization into the 21st Century. Cacao and sugar, as globalized commodities, were brought to the global market on the backs of, and through the sweat of, African slaves in the New World. After European colonization of the New World, cacao, and related commodities became the drivers of the New World slave trade. Ever since then, slavery has been ingrained in the cacao industry. Starting with the Natives oppressed under the Spanish Encomienda System stretching all the way to the African child laborers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
After the Spanish had successfully completed their conquests in the New World, the Spanish Crown had to choose a method of subjugation for the native people living in Spain’s newly acquired lands. They decided on a method of forced labor, called the Encomienda. This system consisted of the Spanish Crown granting a Spaniard property rights over Native labor under which the Spaniard could extract tribute from the Natives such as gold, silver and cacao and in exchange for these goods, these Spaniards, who were called Encomenderos would be responsible for the Native’s indoctrination of the Catholic faith, protection and they would pay the necessary taxes to the Spanish Crown. There were restrictions that the Encomenderos had to keep in mind; first of all, they did not own the Natives they required tribute from and they could not be sold. Secondly, these Enconenderos could not pass their grants to their children, after death it would revert back to the Crown so that it could be granted to another Spaniard. Third and lastly, the Natives could not be moved from their respective geographic locations. Part of this tribute that was paid to the Spaniards was cacao. (Yeager 843) It would seem that cacao production was a byproduct of the Spanish need for control and a lust for over their newly acquired regions as it was not the primary concern of the Spanish.
Enconenderos could not pass their grants to their children, after death it would revert back to the Crown so that it could be granted to another Spaniard. Third and lastly, the Natives could not be moved from their respective geographic locations. Part of this tribute that was paid to the Spaniards was cacao. (Yeager 843) It would seem that cacao production was a byproduct of the Spanish need for control and a lust for over their newly acquired regions as it was not the primary concern of the Spanish.
Why did the Spanish not just enslave the natives outright? Yeager claims that apart from it being unfashionable and looked down upon by Spaniards of all classes at the time, it was a political move to keep the region stable, in that the risk of a revolt was significantly reduced by granting the Natives some protections. That political move came at a cost. (844 – 845) When one looks at this with no moral filter, one can see how brilliant this system was: the Spanish received goods and labor while telling the Natives that they were still “free” thus inoculating themselves from revolution and revolt.
This system the Spanish used in the New World is in stark contrast to France’s exploitation of slaves in Haiti, for example, which would afford no protections for their slaves and in most cases they would literally be worked to death on the sugar plantations. 1 France’s economy would soon rely heavily on the sugar plantations in Haiti, worked exclusively by imported African slaves. In fact, Haiti was producing 40 percent of the sugar for France and Britain and accounted for 40 percent of France’s foreign trade at a time when France was the dominant economy of Europe. Through the 18th century, the French Colony grew and flourished on the backs of over five hundred thousand African slaves, predominantly from the west-central African region of Dahomey. This system of African slavery continued until the Haitian Revolution of 1791. (San Jose State University, A political history of Haiti)
These slaves were brought to the New World via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, best known as the Triangular Trading System.
Merchants and Slavers would make the voyage from Europe towards Africa’s west coast and they would then take the Africans they bought or kidnapped3 across the Atlantic. The arduous passage took from six to eight weeks to complete and those slaves who survived the journey would be sold as soon as they landed and they would be put to work. The ships would then return to Europe with a variety of new world goods like sugar and cacao. The cycle would be repeated until the eventual end of the New World slave trade. (Liverpool Museum)
On March 3, 1807, a bill was ratified by Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States. Not long after, on the 25th, the British House of Lords passed a similar act. But sadly, in neither country did these new legislations suggest the instantaneous end of the international slave trade. It is only on January 1, 1808, that the American act went into effect and neither in the U.S.A. nor in Great Britain did the new laws mean suppression. Africans continued to be deported to the United States until 1860, and British ships and manufactures were extremely involved in the trade throughout the 19th century and it was only in the beginning of the 21st century, in 2001, did the international community recognized the slave trade as a crime against humanity.
Although our society has done much to counter slavery around the world, cacao is still, to this day, a commodity that is embroiled in scandals of child slavery and forced labor. In fact, according to the Food Empowerment Project, child labor is not uncommon in Africa, especially in the Ivory Coast. “On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive,” they said in an article they released called “Child Labor And Slavery In The Chocolate Industry”. According to the Voice Of America, funds from cacao have been used to finance arm purchases by both sides in Cote d’Ivoire’s civil war which creates a greater call for child trafficking in West Africa, where UTZ CERTIFIED Program Manager Daan de Vries estimates that as many as 12,000 children are being forced to work on cocoa farms.
In conclusion, the histories of cacao, sugar and like commodities are steeped in an injustice that continues today around the world. To this day chocolate and sugar production starts with slavery, even to this day.
1. There were other plantations, such as coffee and other commodities, but to maintain continuity of this blog post, I will only be discussing sugar and cacao and how slavery was driven by both.
2. The reason I chose to incorporate sugar and cacao is because today they are almost synonymous with one another to those who do not know the history of chocolate. When people hear the word chocolate they think “Sweet” and that if because sugar and cacao have become intertwined and are almost inseparable in today’s marketplace.
Encomienda Pyramid. N.d. Quizzlet. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
Henshaw, Drew, “Governments Look to End Child Labor in West African Cocoa Farming”, Voice Of America, 6 Oct. 2010. 13 Mar. 2016
The Schonberg Center For Research in Black Culture, “The Abolition Of the Slave Trade”, New York Public Library 2012, 13 Mar. 2016
Triangular Trade, Image. N.d. International Slavery Museum. International Slavery Museum. Web. 13 Mar. 2016
Triangular Trade, Article. N.d. International Slavery Museum. International Slavery Museum. Web. 13 Mar. 2016
Rosenthal, Daniel. Child Laborer On an African Cacao Farm. N.d. The Daily Beast. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
Watkins, Thayer, “Political and Economic History of Haiti”, San Jose State University 13. Mar. 2016
Yeager, Timothy J., “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America”, 13 Mar. 2016.