The Cadbury Demise: How Lack of Transparency Spearheaded Corporate Change

The Cadbury company is such a large and powerful chocolate and confectionary company, and that comes with a certain responsibility. There are many people that are affected by Cadbury and its decisions, so every step they take has an effect on a large scale. Since Cadbury affects so many people’s lives, it is their responsibility to be transparent in all the workings of the company and to protect the most marginalized people involved in the company. Overtime, and with the exposing of worker conditions, Cadbury has changed by being more transparent and focusing on what the consumers want. A company as powerful as Cadbury has the power to change and influence how things are done within the chocolate industry. Even though the Cadbury company believed they did all they could to fix the scandal of the early 1900s, transparency could have helped or at least sped up the process of addressing the issues. This scandal definitely caused the company to assess and change their practices.

“In “intensification,” those in power are responsible both for the presence of the new products and, to a degree, for their meanings; with “extensification,” those in power may take charge of the availability of the new products, but the new users inform them with meaning.” (Mintz 153)

 Cadbury encompasses both sides of this quote because not only were they responsible for the slave labor that created the cocoa they used, they also had consumers that were able to draw their own meaning of the product (i.e. deciding to continue eating it or not). For context, as noted in Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, in the early 1900s, there was a scandal about Cadbury getting its cacao from essentially slave labor. This encompassed the cacao plantations that were owned by Portugal in Africa, and there was a decree issued that outlawed slavery in 1903. Unsurprisingly, this decree was not enforced by Angola officials or Portuguese officials, and another form of slavery emerged to adjust to the decree. This adjustment was in the form of work contracts that were signed by workers thinking that they would be protected while working. This system was eventually exploited by official personnel on the Angola side and Portugal side (Satre 1-12). Light could have been shown on this injustice if there was more transparency on the officials end. If the Cadbury company was more involved in where their cacao was coming from, the injustices experienced by these marginalized people could have been noticed sooner. Regarding the lack of transparency during this time, Portugal is part to blame as well because the lack of transparency in what was going on in Angola could have caused the delay in response by the Cadbury brothers. Also the British officials were quite involved with trying to silence the evidence of the slave labor.

Here is a British promotional video about growing cocoa used to dispel consumer guilt:

“Cocoa Growing (1966) : British Pathé.” Internet Archive, 13 Apr. 2014, archive.org/details/youtube-EDUkrx7Qex4.

To my amazement, the system of contract working was quite similar to the tactics used within the Atlantic Slave Trade. “An agent, or a “labor merchant,” scoured an area for slaves, often far in the interior. He bargained with a chief or chiefs who, in exchange for guns and cartridges, kegs of rums, or bales of cotton, provided a specified number of men, women, or children.” (Satre 7) This similarity in mechanisms makes it hard to believe that the Cadbury brothers did not take as strong of action as they could have. An explanation for this could be that when one of the Cadbury brothers did visit Angola, they were shown a roça, a well-conditioned plantation usually used for show, which could have given him a false sense of security in the conditions of the workers. Transparency could have helped this situation as well because if multiple plantations were shown to William Cadbury then he would have truly understood the injustice that was actually happening. An interesting point is that Cadbury had reached out to the Anti-Slavery Society early on and was presented with evidence of the conditions in Angola, but they chose to not take action during that time (Satre). This makes the Cadbury brothers even more responsible for the conditions of their cacao farm workers. In this sense there was transparency and plenty of it that got ignored, and the Cadbury brothers should take more of a responsibility for that. Since it is now known that Cadbury had information regarding the slave labor and chose not to act on it, it definitely set an example to other companies that correcting causal injustice within a company is not that important. With Cadbury being so large at that time, they really shaped the way other companies viewed ethics within their product production. This influence could have resulted in other companies not prioritizing changing unethical ways because Cadbury got away with it for so long.

Another aspect of the Cadbury scandal of the early 1900s are the consumers. Consumers were strong fans of Cadbury’s products especially when chocolate was not as mass produced as it is now. So how did the consumers feel when they realized Cadbury was not being as transparent about their product as the consumers thought? Well, “despite the public interest and diplomatic angst generated by Burtt’s [Cadbury investigator] visit, New York City remained a major market for Sao Tomean cocoa” (Higgs 151). They for the most part continued to buy the products that were the result of slave labor. As time went on, consumers began to focus on the ethicality of products, so, slowly, Cadbury also reflected that for their customers. Now, since there are many ethical certifications that products can have, customers are now looking for these labels when deciding what to consume. And many companies, including Cadbury, have adjusted their products to these standards. 

An example of how the packaging of the Cadbury candy bars changed over time, with the insertion of a large fair trade sticker on the present candy bar.

Early 1990’s:

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“’Are You There?’ 1900’s Vintage Cadbury Advertisement.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/j7jFhV.

Now:

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“Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Goes Fairtrade.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/6JLQEP.

Cadbury really could have benefitted in initial transparency of their company. Consequently, we did gain an emphasis on fair working environments through this scandal, which has helped up over time.

Works Cited

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power : The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986. 

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

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

Media Cited

“Cocoa Growing (1966) : British Pathé.” Internet Archive, 13 Apr. 2014, archive.org/details/youtube-EDUkrx7Qex4.

“’Are You There?’ 1900’s Vintage Cadbury Advertisement.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/j7jFhV.

“Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Goes Fairtrade.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/6JLQEP.

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