Calling out Cadbury, Chocolate ain’t so Sweet: The Chocolate Industry and Slavery

Cadbury Putting up a Front

William Cadbury brought a lot of controversy and contradiction to his beliefs about the laborers in São Tomé in the early 20th century. He expressed that he wanted to reform labor conditions in Portuguese West Africa by not working with cocoa planters from there (Satre 24). However, what Cadbury said and did were two different things. Cadbury and his comrade, Joseph Burtt created what seemed like a mission to show the public that they would not do business with corrupt purchasing of cocoa beans and would explore the life of black laborers to discover the truth regarding how they were treated (Satre 74). Cadbury proved to be slow to action and did not want to participate in a boycott to maintain good relationships with the Portuguese government even when missionaries advised him that a boycott would help bring positive change to stop slavery and the abuses of laborers (Satre 78). In this work, I argue that William Cadbury carried out a facade to uncover slavery, the cacao laborers’ working conditions, and to help the Portuguese recognize that slavery existed so they would end it. I believe Cadbury intentions were to give his company a positive reputation, so the British would continue to buy Cadbury’s cacao products and disillusion the public that the company was making amends with Portugal to stop slavery in West Africa.

Cadbury knew slavery was going on but he did nothing about it. Lowell J. Satre in Chocolate on Trail claims, “The Cadbury company had good reason to be troubled about labor conditions on the island of São Tomé. Management opposed the abuse of workers, yet in 1900, the firm had purchased over 45 percent of its cocoa beans from the island” (18-19). Satre helps us understand that the intentions and goals of the Cadbury Bros company were to remain idle with issues regarding slavery and severe labor abuses. Cadbury’s goal was not to be a humanitarian but to be a profitable capitalist and to maintain close ties with the Portuguese. He felt he needed to have cacao imported from São Tomé, while he turned a blind eye on the need to fight for Africans’ civil rights and warnings from the Anti-Slavery Society that was established in 1839 (Satre 19). Satre further asserts, “Aside from the report that Burtt produced, however, the Cadbury company had in four years accomplished nothing for slaves who produced the cocoa beans” (99). Cadbury sent Burtt to the islands to gather information about the conditions of laborers but it is clear Cadbury was not too concerned about the outcome because he proceeded to give time to the Portuguese to reform and set conditions for laborers to “be paid a minimum wage, 40 percent of which would be placed in a repatriation fund. These new regulations also furnished protection against illegal labor recruitment” (Satre 23). These reforms did not take place and Cadbury failed to reinforce better working conditions (Satre 99).

Cadbury advertisements acted as a cover and disillusionment to the public that cacao products were “pure” and innocent when really the production of cacao is exploitative of African labor. The picture entitled, “Drink Cadbury’s Cocoa” below with the couple is not only a marketing tool but is also a tactic to psychologically distract consumers from the cruelty and horrors of slavery by convincing its audience that the product gives a sense of being calm and at peace when drinking the beverage ( “Cocoa Advert with Rower 1885”). Interestingly in small print at the bottom of the ad, it says, “In the whole process of manufacture, the automatic machinery employed obviates the necessity of its being once touched by human hand” (“Cadbury’s Cocoa Advert with Rower 1885”). Cadbury here attempts to persuade his buyers that the process of obtaining (before it gets to the machines that purifies it) the cacao beans is natural and workers are involved in honest and safe labor practices to manipulate people. In reality laborers endure injustices and are falsely promised they have the option to return to their country when their contract has ended, and the workers are barely fed and physically beaten very badly.



The Slave Life

The abuses that the enslaved Africans faced was unbearable. They underwent harsh psychological and physical trauma. They were separated from their families and sold by West African chiefs or traders unknowing of the European treatment towards their people they were selling (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”). Some of the Africans decided to kill themselves before leaving their country because they heard rumors of being eaten or were worried about an unknown fate (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”). The slaves had to be taken to the Europeans on the coast, and they traveled for miles in chains (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”) like the image below (ZekethePhotographer, “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Artifact”). The West Africans were treated as property and commodities. Inadequate nutrition, diseases, sexual abuse, and punishment was extremely taxing to the captives, and many died as a result (“Life on Board Slave Ships”).

Better standards since the 1700’s on ships were implemented by the French and British in 1800 but still one in eighteen captives died during sea transportation, and this ill treatment continued far beyond into the twenty century to the enslaved people (“Life on Board Slave Ships”). The picture below illustrates a young enslaved woman being tortured by Europeans as a form of disciplining her for disobeying whatever heinous rules were implemented (“African Woman Slave Trade”). I argue that Cadbury did not care about the black laborers and he only cared about profits. He covered up injustices like shown below that were frequent in the life of slave; being whipped, chained, beaten, raped, not fed or clothed properly, and severely objectified in numerous ways. I believe Cadbury sent Burtt on the trip to Africa and have Burtt write a story to be published of his experiences to distract the Europeans from Cadbury supporting slave grown cacao. Cadbury helped reinforce slavery through his business and supported plantation owners by buying their cacao. Thanks to Cadbury and other chocolate manufacturers of his time, this perpetuated to racism, and Africans and African Americans experience inequality in the workforce, with housing, and more is still seen today.

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Reforms Finally but are They too Weak?

Outbreaks and riots took place in 1953 where several hundred African laborers were killed by Portuguese rulers (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). In the late 1950’s this changed and a small group São Toméans formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP) (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). The new Portuguese regime disestablished the colonies it constructed overseas (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). In 1990 São Tomé became one of the first African countries to embrace democratic reform and changes to its constitution with non-violent actions (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”).

However, child labor has had little improvement. In 2017,  São Tomé and Príncipe did little to abolish the worst forms of child labor (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). The government tried to end it by giving resources to support centers to have children stay in school (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). Regardless of the government efforts, São Tomé and Príncipe have child labor occurring in commercial sexual exploitation (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”) and partake in hazardous tasks in agriculture (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). The poor resources override law enforcement agencies to enforce child labor laws (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). I further argue that regardless of some of these movements, labor abuses still occur today and we still get cacao from São Tomé with poor regulation of farmers working conditions.

Works Cited

Cruikshank, Isaac. “File:African Woman Slave Trade.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, S.W Fores, 6 Dec. 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:African_woman_slave_trade.jpg.

“File:Cadbury’s Cocoa Advert with Rower 1885.Jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, 15 Jan. 2008, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cadbury’s_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885.jpg.

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe.” United States Department of Labor, 19 Sept. 2018, http://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/sao-tome-principe.

“History of São Tomé and Príncipe.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_São_Tomé_and_Príncipe.

“Life on Board Slave Ships.” National Museums Liverpool, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/middle_passage/.

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

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” PortCities Bristol, www.discoveringbristol.org.uk/slavery/people-involved/enslaved-people/enslaved-africans/transatlantic-slave-trade/.

ZekethePhotographer. “File:Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Artifacts.png.” Wikimedia Commons, 11 Feb. 2018, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trans-Atlantic_Slave_Trade_Artifacts.png.


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