Cadbury Slavery Scandal

Although Slavery has long been abolished, the chocolate industry has been utilizing coerced labor and slavery, knowingly or unknowingly, to this day. The most essential ingredient of chocolate, cocoa, must be mass produced for major corporations that produce a majority of the world’s chocolate. This entails extensive manpower, which was once provided by slaves before the abolishment of slavery. The chocolate industry chose to turn a blind eye to a form of modern slavery in the case of the Cadbury company in Sao Tome, a Portugal controlled area off the Coast of Africa in the early 1900s. Cadbury, one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world today, directly bought cocoa from plantations who used slave labor, and did not immediately condemn it, thereby indirectly supporting post abolition slave labor.

Cacao Beans Used to Make Chocolate

In the 1900s, the Cadbury company employed over tons of workers in controlled factory settings. They were a formidable player in the chocolate game. In 1901, William Cadbury visited some cocoa plants in Trinidad. There he learned of instances of slave labor on cocoa plantations Cadbury bought cocoa from on the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese controlled colony Cadbury and other chocolate companies bought cocoa from off the coast of Western Africa. By this time, Portugal had banned slavery in the 1870’s, and had put in place a system of contract labor, where natives of the area could sign contracts for up to five years of labor at a dirt cheap wage.(Satre 2) A british journalist, Henry Nevinson, visited West Africa Portugal in 1905 to study the conditions that laborers had to work in in Sao Tome and surrounding areas. (Martin) He wrote in detail about the post abolition slavery he was witnessing during his trip and even went as far as to call the new contract labor put in place by the Portuguese government just another form of slavery.(Satre 2) He wrote a book about it titled “A Modern Slavery” which included pictures and details about the forms of slavery he witnessed. (Flewelling)

Interested in the claims of slavery in the West African Portuguese colonies, William Cadbury himself sent a young man by the name of Joseph Burtt to investigate what was going on. Burtt was a devout Quaker, and held deep Quaker values. Burtt returned back to Cadbury after his two year trip with similar results to that of Nevinson. (Satre 13) He found that slave labor had in fact been in use on the islands. He submitted a report to Cadbury, but they took a long time to reach the public eye for a number of reasons. The foreign office of Great Britain was keen on not offending the Portuguese government, so they requested certain aspects of the report be deleted.(Flewelling) The report was also to be adopted by other players in the chocolate game because they were all buying from these islands as well.(Flewelling) This lead to long negotiations as to what the final report would contain and was ultimately another delay to the process. The Cadbury brothers depended too much on cocoa from these regions to be able to boycott them until they found another source of cocoa that did not use slave labor, and they did just that in 1909.(Flewelling) After Cadbury took a trip himself to Sao Tome and the surrounding islands, he realized that the reports were in fact true, and that the Portuguese government really could not enforce abolition in these areas.(Higgs 148) They chose the Gold Coast as it had better quality cocoa than the Portuguese slave labor areas. All of this combined to allow the Cadbury company along with other chocolate producers in Great Britain to announce their boycott of the Portuguese held cocoa producing islands that were employing slave labor.

William Cadbury

This is one of the first, but sadly not the last,  well documented and notable incidents where companies use the morally reprehensible tactic of post abolition slave labor to make profits margins rise and costs lower. William Cadbury knew of the transgressions in the Portugal controlled West African province cocoa plantations, yet he waited until it was convenient for his company to come out and condemn the labor situation in the affected areas. He found another way to get high quality cocoa beans for just as cheap, and then he stopped buying from the well documented slave laborers. Politics and fear of offending the Portuguese government also got in the way of doing what is morally correct and having the type of integrity that a giant corporation should have because of the type of power and influence they wield. Cadbury objectively participated in illegal and disgusting schemes with the incentive of higher profits and convenience. This type of action to farm cocoa still goes on today, but it often has deeper layers and complexities that must be dove into to truly understand. Child labor and quasi slave labor in the eyes of the global community is considered wrong in America and among many other countries, but for some, it is ingrained in their culture. Is this still slavery or is it just a part of a culture that has yet to prescribe to the modern ideals of labor ethics? You be the judge.

Works Cited

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 130-160

Martin, Carla D. Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor .

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-30

“William Cadbury, Chocolate, and Slavery in Portuguese West Africa.” Isles Abroad, 11 Feb. 2017, britishandirishhistory.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/william-cadbury-chocolate-and-slavery-in-portuguese-west-africa/.Flewelling, Lindsey.

Media Cited

William A Cadbury Chariatble Fund, http://web120.extendcp.co.uk/oakdaletrust.org.uk/wa-cadbury.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/WACPortraitHS.png

Sunfood Super Foods, http://www.sunfood.com/food/cacao-chocolate-cocoa.html.

BreakingNews56. “Chocolate Child Slaves- CNN.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Jan. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM.



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