Category Archives: College

Raising the Bar with Tony’s Chocolonely

Seldom will the average consumer find a chocolate company as unique as Tony’s Chocolonely. From its irregularly divided bars representing the inequality in the chocolate industry, to its quirky name referencing the founder’s sense of solitude as a crusader against slavery in the industry, all of the company’s efforts aim for ethical reform through delicious chocolate. This Dutch company arose from the investigative journalism work of Teun “Tony” van de Keuken. After discovering the reality of slavery in the cocoa industry, Tony sought to tackle the issue himself. He realized the importance of consumer responsibility in reinforcing these industrial injustices, going so far as to “prosecute [him]self for buying and eating chocolate” that involved slavery in its production (Tony’s, “The Story”).

From chocolate conviction to confectionary: The ethical foundations of Tony’s Chocolonely.

The Mission

Thus, Tony’s Chocoloney was founded on the principle of producing completely “slave free chocolate” and influencing chocolate makers around the globe to follow suit. Its products, characterized by bright colors and eye-catching designs, are emblazoned with company’s mission: “Together we make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate” (Tony’s, Report 11).

This mission is not only applied toward its own products; Tony’s also aspires to elevate the worldwide chocolate industry to this same standard. Tony’s takes a holistic approach to transforming the chocolate industry from within. This begins with grassroots community efforts at the local farmer level, continues through to consumer transparency, and extends beyond to the global chocolate industry. Tony’s Chocolonely hopes to leverage its loyal customer base and prominence in the Dutch market to alleviate ethical issues in the global cacao-chocolate supply chain.

Tony’s dedication to ethical chocolate starts with the social and economic well-being of its cocoa farmers and continues through every ingredient and packaging material. These steps trace the company’s five sourcing principles for 100% slave free chocolate: traceable cocoa beans, higher prices, strong farmers, long-term sustainability, and improved quality and productivity.

The five sourcing principles, on display in Tony’s Chocotruck.

Reliable Relationships

Each of these social, economic, and political tactics is tailored to the key players in Tony’s chocolate supply chain: cocoa farmers, chocolate makers, stores, fans, and governments (Tony’s, Report 13). Beginning with the farmers, Tony’s has been strategic in choosing which cocoa-producing regions to work with. Rather than shying away from countries with severe social abuses in farming, the company has embraced them head-on. After discovering the prevalence of slavery in West Africa, Tony’s formed partnerships with five cocoa farming cooperatives in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. This direct contact with farmers at the local community level has been necessary to target the engrained unjust cultural practices. Tony’s works with farmers on a personal level to address social, financial, and educational issues. The company sources 100% of its cocoa beans from these five cooperatives, establishing balanced relationships through which it can introduce fundamental institutional changes. Tony’s engages in direct trade with these farmers, eliminating profits lost by the farmers to intermediaries in the supply chain. This direct contact also helps develop strong, stable long-term relationships that enable the cooperatives to grow and organize.

Principles Over Profits

Financial stability is one of the most pressing issues facing West African cocoa farmers. This problem has been poorly addressed in the chocolate industry due to incomplete or misdirected efforts. A popular suggestion involves paying higher prices for cocoa; however, this approach fails in many cases if the national government is the intermediary between the farmers and the global market, or if national policies incentivize the cultivation of other crops (Off 146, Martin slide 40). Cocoa farmers are paid the farm gate price for their beans, but this may not reflect the global market price. However, farmers can enhance their earnings through certification premiums. All of Tony’s cocoa farmers are Fairtrade certified; however, this still does not relieve them from financial insolvency. Due to its pervasiveness and widespread effects, poverty is Tony’s target and root cause of labor abuses.

Tony’s cocoa beans are Faitrade certified, so farmers receive both Fairtrade and Tony’s additional premiums.

Considering these challenges, Tony’s goal to pay farmers living wages—enough to hire adult workers and send their children to school—seems almost quixotic. To work towards this goal, the company has instituted an additional Tony’s premium that bypasses institutional middlemen and directly benefits farmers: “We pay the extra Tony’s premium straight to the cooperatives of our partner farmers, so not every link in the chain (such as local and international traders, cocoa processers or bar manufacturers) in the chocolate chain receives a percentage of this higher premium” (Tony’s, Report 27). During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, on top of the Fairtrade premium of $200 per metric ton, Tony’s paid an additional $400 per metric ton in the Ivory Coast and an additional $175 in Ghana (103). Thus, the cooperative farmers in the Ivory Coast received a payment 47% greater than the farm gate price; in Ghana, 21% greater (29). The additional Tony’s premium is also dynamic, taking into account the current cocoa market, farm family size, cost of family sustenance, and agricultural input costs. For example, in response to the 2016 excess Ivorian cocoa harvest, Tony’s more than doubled its premium to compensate for the decline in farm gate price. This contrasts from the nearly static Fairtrade price and premium, which will be updated in late 2019 from their 2011 values (Fairtrade).

The Proof is in the (Chocolate) Pudding

One of the unique aspects of Tony’s relationships with farmers is its comprehensive analysis of progress. Tony’s has partnered with the KIT Royal Tropical Institute, “an independent centre of expertise and education for sustainable development,” to investigate the impact of its efforts on local communities (KIT 2). The interviews documented in the FAIR Report indicate that the farmers have generally positive feelings toward their relationships with Tony’s. The cooperative managers have a greater sense of ownership and confidence in their farms. Women in the cooperatives are more empowered and can contribute tangibly to the cocoa communities. Overall, farmers appreciate the additional Tony’s premium, but there is no explicit evidence regarding the extent to which the premiums have directly increased their incomes (Tony’s, Report 36). Although increased living incomes is one of Tony’s goals for its farmers, these economic efforts are also intended to indirectly prevent systemic causes of slavery and child labor.

The Climb for Ethical Labor with CLMRS

Tony’s efforts at eradicating slavery and child labor extend beyond the economic sphere in its collaboration with the Child Labor Monitoring Remediation System (CLMRS). This system was founded by the International Cocoa Initiative and Nestle to track, target, and eradicate child labor in the cocoa industry (Nestle 23). Tony’s has thoroughly embraced this system by mobilizing local communities to “actively and structurally [search] for child labor” (Tony’s, Report 1). The system is centered on the CLMRS community facilitators. trained individuals who spread awareness of prohibited forms of child labor among local communities. These facilitators visit farmers at their homes to interview both farmers and children to identify the children at greatest risk for child labor. They also hold awareness sessions to teach farmers about fair labor practices. From an interview with KIT, an administrative manager at an Ivorian cooperative indicated his involvement in CLMRS has enabled him to “educate people and strengthen groups” and fulfill a personal goal of being a “role model for the youth” (34).

One of the major strengths of this system is its focus on the collective local identity and social solidarity of cocoa communities through personal interaction. However, this also leads to inefficiencies including incomplete data collection and difficulties in data analysis. In 2017, CLMRS found 268 cases of child labor—primarily children performing dangerous tasks on family farms—and no cases of modern slavery. Very reasonably, Tony’s admits this may be an underestimate. However, after only one year of working with CLMRS, it has visited over 3,000 households and interviewed nearly 4,000 children (Tony’s, Report 40). On a larger scale, CLMRS spans multiple companies in West Africa, and its overall performance shows promising signs of progress. As of 2017, CLMRS as a whole identified nearly 15,000 cases of child labor, over half of whom were longer in child labor three years later (USDOL 74). Considering this broader progress, Tony’s appears to be on an upward trajectory of identifying and eliminating child labor.

Chocolate industry labor abuses and Tony’s central mission, explained on a box of chocolate bars.

Emphasizing Education

Tony’s Chocolonely also prioritizes education—of both producers and consumers—as a proxy for social change. The company invests in agricultural education and works with farmers to improve their yields through sustainable farming practices. They help develop skills for cultivating cocoa and other crops, for higher farm productivity and less dependency on cocoa. Focusing on education helps target and prevent inequalities that arise downstream in the supply chain. The company seeks to “professionalize farming cooperatives and farms, giving them more power to structurally change inequality” (Tony’s, Report 27). In addition to educating farmers and managers, Tony’s also provides children with direct resources to help them attend school. Its efforts range from arranging birth certificates and health insurance to distributing school supplies and bicycles. Rather than fixing surface-level issues of productivity and management, Tony’s targets the core of the problem, laying a solid foundation to enable the farmers to grow.

Scrutiny in Sourcing

Another ethical point of contention along the cocoa-chocolate supply chain is the sourcing and sustainability of ingredients. Since Tony’s engages in direct trade with its five cooperatives for all of its cocoa beans, it is able to maintain complete transparency and traceability throughout the process. All of its cocoa beans are 100% traceable, meaning Tony’s knows exactly who produced the beans, under what conditions they were produced, and the path they took to arrive at its bean warehouse in Antwerp, Belgium (Tony’s, Report 27). Another key ingredient, cocoa butter, has also come under scrutiny regarding sourcing and sustainability. Tony’s produces its cocoa butter in conjunction with Barry Callebaut in Abidjan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast. The company focuses on improving sustainability in cocoa butter production by using locally grown mid-crop beans (52). Because these beans are out of season and lower in quality, the Ivorian government prohibits them from export. Consequently, cocoa farmers generate significantly less income during the off season. However, these beans can still be used to produce cocoa butter, which is exactly what Tony’s does. It also pays these farmers the same Tony’s additional premium, allowing them to maintain a more stable income year-round.

In addition to its cacao products, Tony’s also pays close attention to the sourcing of its various flavorings and chocolate add-ins. The FAIR Report displays a traceability map of the main ingredients in various chocolate products (80-81). This includes basic ingredients such as Fairtrade cane sugar from Mauritius, to limited edition flavorings such as red wine powder from France. The company doesn’t stop at only the edible ingredients; they also take into consideration their packaging. Their chocolate wrappers are made of Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper and printed with plant-based inks in a climate neutral and environmentally friendly facility. Furthermore, the pages of the FAIR report were printed on paper made from recycled sugar cane leaves and corn cobs (127).

Creative Consumer Contact

The other side of Tony’s chocolate industry mission is its consumer base. The company relies on its loyal Dutch fans and growing international customers to spread its chocolate and mission. One of the most recent initiatives to spread consumer awareness is the Tony’s Chocotruck Tour featuring the “Bean to Bar Journey.” This unique approach to fighting the “‘anonymity’ of the market” sensitizes consumers so they know conditions of production of the goods they consume (Sylla 47).

Tony’s Chocotruck toured the country to spread awareness, consumer responsibility, and of course, chocolate.

The colorful truck is adorned with bright lights and operated by enthusiastic Tony’s employees eager to share both Tony’s chocolate and mission. This fun, jovial atmosphere contrasts from the sobering message that the company is trying to convey: slavery and child labor are ubiquitous in the chocolate industry, and consumers and companies must take action. Through the tour, Tony’s seeks “to meet loads of new chocofans and serious friends who will share our chocolate and our story” (Tony’s “Chocotruck”). The truck contains interactive displays highlighting labor abuses in the chocolate industry, as well as Tony’s efforts to remediate them. It begins with staggering statistics revealing human trafficking, slavery, and child labor on cocoa farms. The displays continue by describing Tony’s various measures and sourcing principles to address the issue. The focus on consumer interaction— “The choice is yours. Are you in?”—makes visitors feel like they are directly involved in impacting these injustices.

The interior of the Chocotruck, filled with fun, educational displays.

Governmental Action

Finally, Tony’s has also worked with the Dutch government in an attempt to pass legislation addressing corporate responsibility of child labor. The “Zorgplicht Kinderarbeid” Child Labor Due Diligence Act would require businesses in the Netherlands to declare that they are taking all necessary measures to prevent child labor, identify the risks of child labor in their supply chains, and address these risks to the best of their abilities (Beltman 1). Although this bill would have only applied to Dutch businesses, it was an earnest attempt at governmentally enforceable change in the political sphere. Despite Tony’s petition including 42 cocoa businesses and over 13,000 signatures, the bill failed to pass the Dutch Upper House (Tony’s, Report 66). The company admitted that efforts at government progress in child labor due diligence have been met with resistance. However, the wide support of the petition demonstrated that the company has succeeded in spreading awareness and inspiring others to act. Despite the lack of political progress, Tony’s shows no signs of resignation.

Solidairy-ty in the Industry

Overall, Tony’s Chocolonely presents a wide array of strategies aimed at their singular mission of 100% slave free chocolate. These principles have helped Tony’s excel in spreading awareness among consumers, and it hopes to further inspire other chocolate companies to act. However, no single company can successfully address every complex ethical issue in the chocolate industry. Tony’s has a significant presence in the Netherlands, but Dutch chocolate is only a fraction of the global industry, in terms of consumption and economy (ICO 39-40). Additionally, Tony’s currently works with approximately 5,000 individual farmers in West Africa, only about 0.2% of the total 2.5 million farmers in region (Tony’s, Report 34). The company values strong personal relationships with its farmers, but this comes as a tradeoff to the breadth of its influence. Finally, Tony’s mission of slave free chocolate may initially seem like too simplistic of a goal. If the company were to approach this mission exclusively through traditional tactics of policy, certifications, or consumer pressure, this would indeed be too low a bar. However, Tony’s uses an innovative, holistic approach to targeting systemic social, economic, and political issues at different stages within the supply chain. These principles, combined with over-the-top enthusiasm for its “chocofan” consumers, are helping Tony’s transform the chocolate industry’s ethical standards from within.

Works Cited: Scholarly Sources

  1. Beltman, Henk Jan. “A Law on the Duty of Care for Child Labour Seriously Tackles the Issue of Child Labour.” Received by Senate of the Netherlands: Standing committee for foreign affairs, defence and development cooperation, 3 October 2017, The Hague, Netherlands.
  2. Fairtrade International. Fairtrade Minimum Price and Fairtrade Premium Table. Bonn, Germany: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. 28 March 2019.
  3. International Cocoa Organization Executive Committee. The World Cocoa Economy: Past and Present. London, United Kingdom: International Cocoa Organization. 18–21 September 2012.
  4. KIT Royal Tropical Institute. Annual Report 2017. Amsterdam, Netherlands. 2017.
  5. Martin, Carla D. “Modern Day Slavery” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 27 Mar. 2019.
  6. Nestle Cocoa Plan. Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report. Vevey, Switzerland. 20 June 2017.
  7. Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: the Dark Side of the Worlds Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
  8. Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.
  9. Tony’s Chocolonely. “The Bean to Bar Journey – Chocotruck Tour.” Tony’s Chocolonely, 2019,
  10. Tony’s Chocolonely. Tony’s Chocolonely FAIR Report 2017-2018. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Tony’s Chocolonely. 29 November 2018. Print.
  11. United States Department of Labor. Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG) Annual Report 2017. Washington, D.C.: USDOL. 2017.

Works Cited: Multimedia Sources

  1. Fairtrade. Fairtrade Logo. Wikimedia Commons, 7 November 2011. Accessed 15 March 2019.
  2. Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely – the story of an unusual chocolate bar.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 October 2015. Web.
  3. Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely – Tony’s Bean to Bar Journey.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 March 2019. Web.
  4. Tony’s Chocolonely. “Tony’s Chocolonely USA on Instagram: ‘Girl Power! These Ladies Supply Cocoa Beans to ECOJAD, Our Partner Cooperative in Ivory Coast. This Picture Was Taken on Their Cassava…”.” Instagram, 2 August 2018,
  5. All other photos were taken by the author.

Women and Valentine’s Day: A discussion on why chocolate.

On this year’s Valentine’s day, my best friend and I, being the single women we are, decided to celebrate our the night by buying ourselves chocolate and wine while watching a movie. In all honesty, none of us particularly likes chocolate but it seemed like the appropriate movie snack for Valentine’s day. This type of thinking is not unique to us. It echoes the actions of million other people from all over the world flooding retail shops to buy their significant others flowers and chocolate. It also shows the strong association that our society believes to exist between chocolate and love with or without a heterosexual romance. In other words, while most foods are marketed for their nutritional, aesthetic or dainty value, chocolates have also been sold as symbols of love and sexuality. I would like to explore the various social and historical factors that have led to this phenomenon, and the gendered lens through which Valentine’s day has been tied to Chocolate.

Stores stock so much chocolate in addition to flowers and other love symbols

Firstly, the history of cacao in Mesoamerica is essential to understand the symbolic role chocolate has played in portraying romantic love on occasions such as Valentine’s day. In her essay, on “The Conquests of Chocolate”, Norton notes that “chocolate was ritually consumed at betrothal and wedding ceremonies, and presented to visiting dignitaries” (Norton, 2004). It was presented as an offering to the bride’s father by the groom as a testament of his love for his(the bride’s father) daughter and of respect. While most people do not know this history, chocolate companies have capitalized on this knowledge to lure consumers looking for symbols to express their love to one another.  Norton argues that “the association between chocolate and romantic love continues to hold sway in our collective imagination, as evidenced by the box-of-chocolate’s status as the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift and its mythical status as an aphrodisiac”(Norton, 2004). Chocolate becomes instrumental for those men who would like to show their feelings to their women and, in a similar fashion as the Mesoamericans, chocolate also symbolizes respect between the two lovers.

Secondly, chocolate was historically, and still is to an extent, marketed as a luxury item. It was consumed by those who belonged in the wealthier class. As observed by Norton, chocolate then “played an important role in Mesoamerican society as a drink that denoted status…” (Norton, 2004). This was also true when chocolate first spread through Europe where Spaniards not only “learned to replicate the taste, fragrance, look, and texture of Mesoamerican chocolate,…” but also “internalized the association between chocolate and noble distinction” (Norton, 2004). Another author, Jamal Fahim, in his work on, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”, claims “chocolate advertising…arouses appetites of a social nature by promising to satisfy viewers’ deep-seated desires for sexual fulfillment and higher class status”(Fahim, 2010). This is why men tend to buy this item to make their women feel special because it is an item that has been historically tied to status and luxury- especially on a day meant to represent passion and love.

Thirdly, and perhaps the assumption we need to address, is that while both men and women have been historically associated with love, women have been, almost exclusively, associated with chocolate cravings. According to Bruinsma, chocolate cravings appear to exist in 40% of women and only 15% of men” (Bruinsma and Taren 1999). These cravings go beyond the socialization of women as being sweeter and therefore liking sweet things. According to Anthony Auger, an assistant professor at UW-Madison, women are more affected by chocolate than men. He references a study conducted that shows the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates food intake, was less active in women when they consumed chocolate which is why they were more likely to eat it more compared to me. This is an interesting take that changes the way we view Valentine’s day and the view that women only like chocolate because they have socialized to love it.

This is a common image in mainstream media, especially blog advertisements of chocolate, portrays women as avid eaters of chocolate.

Yet, we do not have conclusive evidence that this is entirely biological. There are various factors that may have led to this evolutionary phenomenon in which women are more likely to like chocolate than men. One of the many explanations is that women prefer sugary foods when they are lactating- an evolutionary mechanism to protect the baby- and this might have advanced the idea that women generally prefer chocolates (McQuillan, 2014). That being said, this paper does not explore other potential explanations for women’s love of chocolate. However, this paper seeks to highlight that women’s cravings for chocolate are perhaps more than just reactions to sensualized advertisements. They might also stem from evolutionary desires that tie certain foods to the female reproduction process and thus set in motion the reaction to advertisements beckoning women to consume more chocolate.

Ultimately, Valentine’s day remains an important day across the world. It’s meaning transcends the boundaries of language and culture in the face of globalization and brings people from all corners together in celebration of romantic love. Expectedly, capitalism also remains at the forefront with companies devising new ways to sell their products. This essay is part of a large conversation on how the culture of consumerism that rises within capitalist states influences the way we understand and limit ourselves within certain gendered norms. It uses a lens of chocolate to highlight the central issue of capitalist initiatives to exploit women’s love for chocolate by branding it as a symbol of love. Yet, it does not seek to place on a moral judgement on whether this is good or bad but simply raises the question of how even food can be instrumental in shaping gender dynamics.


  1. “Why Chocolate For Valentine’s Day? | The Stories | ~GIVEAWAY~ | G.Y’s Food Talk |.” YouTube. N. p., 2019. Web
  2. Martinez, Duran. “Stores Stock Shelves For Valentines Day.” 94.9 WMMQ. N. p., 2019.
  3. Fahim, Jamal. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate …Occidental College,
  4. Bruinsma, Kristen, and Douglas L. Taren. 1999. “Chocolate: Food or drug?” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 10: 1249-1256.
  5. Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3, 2004, pp. 14–17. JSTOR,
  6. “Curiosities: Why Does It Seem Women Like Chocolate So Much More Than Men Do?.” N. p., 2007.
  7. McQuillian, Suzan. “Women and Chocolate:Think You’Re Addicted to Dark, Smooth, and Sweet? You’re Not Alone.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,
  8. Editorial, SheKnows, and Dustin James. “Eat More Chocolate.” SheKnows. N. p., 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2019.

The Humble Origins of Chocolate: Conquest and Complicity

What images does the word “chocolate” call up for you? Many would imagine a perfectly portioned bar of milk chocolate in the fashion of Hershey or Cadbury, other a mousse, yet others a steaming cup of hot cocoa– “chocolate” is absolutely an overdetermined word. It describes a flavor, various pastries and food goods, a scent, sometimes colors, and even specific products, like chocolate bonbons or bars. English borrows the word from Spanish, and Spanish borrows the word from either Maya (chokola’j) and, supposedly, Nahuatl (the mysterious xocoatl)—its exact origins are unclear. (Martin, Lecture, 6 February 2019; Lara, pp. 238; Coe & Coe, pp. 33, 118-19) The etymological history of chocolate, the very first thing one might look at when glancing at a dictionary entry for the word, is from the beginning inextricable from its bloody cultural roots in the conquest of the “New” World by the Spaniards and, later, slavery and colonization in South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Figure 1. The history of chocolate
Deanna Pucciarelli
sponsored by TED Ed

This transfiguration of indigenous words for cacao was instigated by a series of early encounters between indigenous peoples in Latin America and European colonizers. Cultural exchanges of this kind occurred in the arenas of trade, food, and religion. Because of the language barrier, many things were based on observations and experiences of, at first, Spaniards, then other Europeans, leading to many misunderstandings that go beyond the confusion of the origins of the word “chocolate.” Europeans did not initially understand the appeal of the bean, finding it bitter, strange, and even “obnoxious.” (Coe & Coe, pp. 109-10).

As more settlers came from Spain to the Americas, creolization1 – occurred not only in terms of race and language, but also in terms of chocolate. The Spaniards acquired a taste for cacao only after sweetening it, heating it, and adding flavors such as cinnamon and anise. This was a departure from the Maya and Aztec ways of consuming cacao, as a cold, frothy, and usually unsweetened beverage commonly flavored with corn, chili peppers, or achiote. (Coe & Coe, pp. 115) While creolization created the rich blend of cultures still present today in Latin America, the more the Spanish desired cacao the further it was distanced from its original cultural position in the area, until it became the commodity it is today.

Cacao was deeply entrenched in the sociocultural fabric of Mayan society, specifically, and, through trade and agriculture, became important to other Mesoamerican societies, like the Aztecs, as well. The plant is thought to have been cultivated by Mesoamerican peoples as early as 1400 BCE. (Leissle, pp. 30) Its consumption indicated high social and political status, and was often a feature of important negotiations and ceremonies. The beans were also used as currency— the money that grew on trees. The cacao tree had strong ties to the Underworld and to death, showing up in both funeral rites and sacrifices.

Figure 2. Map of Mesoamerica

Early European interactions with the indigenous peoples of the Americas resulted in the exotification of indigenous peoples and cultures which extends in many ways to modern, Western perceptions of chocolate. As cacao made it to Europe, Catholics questioned whether the drink made by the Mesoamericans would be a “violation of pre-Communion or Lenten fasts.” (Leissle, pp. 35) It was also consumed in coffee and chocolate houses, important sites for the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas in the 17th century. Then came bar chocolate, a massively popular commodity even today. And, now, with megacorporations controlling chocolate production, the origins of cacao as a revered plant in Mesoamerica could not seem further away. Yet, the Western attraction to the mysterious “other” persists.

Though the modern consumer may not even recognize chocolate as is was originally consumed by Mesoamericans, the way that the industry sells chocolate inadvertently perpetuates the legacy of colonialism. This occurs not only in terms of continued exploitation of the peoples in previously colonized regions through labor practices and control of the market, but also in terms of the language we use to sell and describe chocolate.

Figure 3. Screenshot of Godiva Chocolatiers website
Figure 4. Mayan glyph for cacao – kakaw or kakau

Here, Godiva, a Belgian chocolate company puts its spin on the origins of chocolate. “The Mayans of Central America are believed to be the first to discover cocoa as early as 900 AD,” they say. Note the use of the word cocoa, an Anglicization of cacao which comes from the Mayan kakau. (see Figure 3) There is no mention of the Olmecs, thought to be the first to cultivate cacao, or other Mesoamerican cultures to whom the cacao tree was so important. “They learned that the beans inside the cocoa pods could be harvested and made into a liquid that would become a treasured Mayan treat,” it continues— all of the uses of cacao in Mayan society and its associations with life, death, and the gods, glossed over as consumers are introduced to cacao as a “treasured Mayan treat.”

Godiva is only one of many companies which capitalize on the exotification of the indigeneity of chocolate. These misrepresentations are dangerous to extant cultures in Latin America as well as being caricatures of the ancient Aztec and Maya peoples. While it would be difficult if not impossible to imagine a world without chocolate as we know it today, in all its pre-packaged and artisan forms, complicity with the systems of domination that gave the modern consumer access to it as a product is, however easy a trap to fall into, inexcusable.

1 an effect of colonization involving the cultural mixture of people of Indigenous American, West African and European descent

Works Cited

The Transformation of Cocoa’s Production and Continued Reliance on Child Labor

Geographic Transition of Cocoa Production:

For few centuries of Cocoa’s introduction and use of Cocoa, the entire supply came from the Americas, where Cocoa originated. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, Cocoa production began in Africa. By 1920, Africa accounted for around 50% of the world’s supply of Cocoa and, today, it accounts for over 70% of the world’s supply. These changes can be seen in the image below.

Cutting Costs via Labor:

Labor costs primarily underpinned this geographic transition of Cocoa Production, as producers, realizing they could grow Cocoa in West Africa, saw the opportunity to no longer transport African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Furthermore, the transportation costs to their processing plants in Europe, also one of the largest consumption areas of chocolate, were reduced due to the shorter shipping routes. As slavery was completely phased out, the costs of labor remain the cheapest in West Africa. One unfortunate reason for this is the presence and wide usage of child labor.

Prevalence of Child Labor:

It has been reported that over two million children are working in hazardous conditions involved with the production and collection of cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Tulane University) The job of these children includes using chainsaws to cut down trees, dealing with hazardous pesticides, using machetes to hack open the cocoa bean pods, and carrying sacks of pods that weigh over one hundred pounds. These children come from multiple countries and through many avenues. Many child laborers come from Burkina Faso and Mali with hopes of earning decent wages and returning home to their families. (Robson) These hopes are usually dashed and replaced by the realities of working for years in harsh conditions with little to no payment and motivated by false promises. Other children are forced into work after being sold by family members desperate for money or after being abducted. Regardless of the path to working on a plantation, a unifying theme among all of these paths is poverty.

Poverty is widespread throughout these West African countries with poverty rates ranging from 30% to 50%. (Wernau) The extreme poverty rates lead to the question of why cocoa farmers resort to child labor instead of hiring adult laborers. The motivation for using child labor is also the result of monetary factors. Cocoa farmers earn an income of $0.78/day, which is one third of the $2.51/day living income standard. (Fountain, Huetz-Adams) These low prices lead farmers to rely on child laborers to maximize profits, as child laborers are much more vulnerable and more easily manipulated than adult laborers. Many times, farmers can get away with paying child laborers nothing by driving them onward with false promises that they will be paid.

Ineffectiveness of Child Labor Efforts:

The issue of child labor has received widespread attention since the early 2000s, prompting the major chocolate manufacturers to be signatories on the 2001 Harkin-Engle Protocol, which aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. However, by 2011, little had been accomplished in combatting the issues of child labor. In fact, reports have shown that the number of child laborers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana increased by 21% from 2008-09 to 2013-14. (Wernau, Tulane University) The ineffectiveness of the Harkin-Engle Protocol led twelve major corporations to join CocoaAction, an organization that aims to support select plantations and significantly reduce child labor by 2020. The 2018 Cocoa Barometer Report states, “Not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sector-wide objective of the elimination of child labor, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labor by 2020.”

Corporate Responsibility:

The CocoaAction foundation has pledged to spend $500 million over ten years to combat child labor. (Harrison-Dunn) This may seem like a significant amount, but it pales in comparison to the profits of these corporations. Mars, the largest of them, is the 4th largest private company in the United States with over 76,000 employees and revenues exceeding $32 billion a year. Their profits easily exceed $1 billion a year. (Kaplan) Nestle netted a profit of $15 billion in 2014 alone and around $8 billion the year before that, and Hershey’s profits are around $800 million a year. (AFP) The profits of these three companies completely dwarf the $50 million a year commitment made by over a hundred chocolate companies to reduce child labor in cocoa production. Even as these companies claim they are making efforts to ensure the fair production of their goods, it falls upon the public to pressure these companies. The public needs to hold these large, profitable companies accountable for their hypocrisy and empty-handed words of improvement.


AFP. “Nestle Net Profit Soars 45% despite Slipping Sales.” Business Insider. N.p., 19 Feb.  2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2016

Fountain, Antonie & Huetz-Adams, Friedel. (2018). 2018 Cocoa Barometer. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from

Harrison-Dunn, Annie-Rose. “Joining the Cocoa Dots: 12 Confectionery Titans Join            CocoaAction Strategy.” Confectionery News. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.         

Kaplan, David A. “Mars Incorporated: A Pretty Sweet Place to Work.” Fortune. N.p., 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2016

Robson, Paul. “Ending Child Trafficking in West Africa.” Anti-Slavery International (2010):   1-37. Print.

Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “Survey Research on    Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas.” (July 2015): n. pag. United States Department of Labor. Web.

Wernau, Julie. “Child Labor on The Rise in West Africa as Demand for Cocoa Grows.” WSJ. N.p., 30 July 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

British sugar: How we got here

It is no secret that sugar is a major part of the modern diet. In the United States, according to the CDC, “In 2005–2010, the average percentage of total daily calories from added sugars was 13% (average intake of 335 calories) for men and 13% (average intake of 239 calories) for women aged 20 and older” (“Know”). In Britain, according to the BBC, “The latest NDNS report found that all age groups were eating more added sugar (technically known as non-milk extrinsic sugars) than the 11% level but that children were exceeding it to the greatest degree” (Jeavens). The British have been consuming sugar long before the United States even came to be, so how did it become so prevalent in British diets? One potential reason for the run up in sugar consumption is the versatility of sugar and its uses. It could be used as medicine, spice-condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and a preservative (Martin, slide 12). Another potential reason is that slavery helped to produce sugar for cheap, and sugar duties that propped up the price of sugar were lifted, making sugar more accessible and cheaper for the people of Great Britain.

From 1700-1800, British sugar consumption jumped from about 4 lbs. per person in to 18 lbs. (Mintz 97). However, it grew even more rapidly from there. As you can see from Figure 1 below, sugar consumption has skyrocketed in Britain since 1800. In the early days of sugar, it was a luxury reserved for the rich. When it first came to Europe “around 1100 A.D., sugar was grouped with spices—pepper, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cardamom, coriander, galingale (related to ginger), saffron, and the like. Most of these were rare and expensive tropical (and exotic) imports, used sparingly by those who could afford them at all” (Mintz 111). Sugar, like these other spices, was quite expensive and hard to get. But, it uses were incredibly versatile. Sugar could be used as a spice, used in jams, used in tea and coffee, and used to sculpt subtleties. “By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity—albeit a costly and rare one—in the diet of every English person” (Mintz 32).

The Transatlantic Slave Trade, also known as Triangular Trade, aided in the spread of sugar because it could be produced for cheap. Since sugar was so profitable, colonizing countries used the West Indies to grow tons of sugar, and forced African slaves to grow it and work the land. As you can see in Figure 3, slaves flowed into the West Indies from Africa, and sugar (along with other goods) flowed into Europe and the American colonies. Much of the major economic trade was built on the backs of slaves—trade of which they never saw any benefit themselves as they were worked to death and sold to work in the fields as “property.” On top of the cruelty of slavery driving down production costs, after the 1870s, “the abolition of the sugar duties made sugar cheap and plentiful; jam contains 50 to 65 per cent of its weight in sugar…. Most of the produce of the jam and preserves factories was for domestic consumption…. Urban working classes…consumed much of their fruit in the form of jam” (Mintz 164). Thus, with sugar becoming less expensive thanks to the repeal of sugar duties, giving more people access to sugar at a lower cost.  Thus, “the jam manufacturers, with the exception of Blackwell and Chivers who made expensive preserves as well, agreed in 1905 that their most extensive and lucrative market lay in the working class to whom jam, once a luxury, had now become a necessity, and a substitute for the more expensive butter” (Mintz 164).

The versatility of sugar was very important to its rise, as well as its ability to fuel caloric intake. Men out working in the factories needed high amounts of protein in their diet in order to fuel their labor intensive work. Unfortunately, animal protein was expensive and hard to come by for the working poor. Thus, with the introduction of sugar, it was a cheaper way for the women and children of the family to meet some of their caloric needs. As shown in Figure 2 below, sugar was used as for caloric intake as well as energy to get yourself through the day. By 1900, sugar was about one-fifth of the calories in the English diet (Mintz 32).

Sugar has become a major part of our lives, and continues to grow on the world stage. “World sugar production shows the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market over the course of several centuries, and it is continuing upward still” (Martin, slide 3). There are many potential factors that caused the rapid rise of sugar, but I believe that its versatility, use as caloric fuel, and rise in production and the drop in price were major contributors that shaped the way sugar has affected our society. Sugar consumption doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and it’s hard to see it slowing any time in the near future.

SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).
“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov. 2012,

Works Cited

Scholarly sources

-Jeavans, Christine. “How Much Sugar Do We Eat?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2014,

-“Know Your Limit for Added Sugars | Nutrition | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,


-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

-Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Penguin Books, 1986, Apple Books.

Multimedia Sources

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).

-“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov.


Primary Uses of Cocoa Within the Pre-Colombian Mayan Civilization


Given the fact that cocoa has an extensive and, often times, perplexing history, it is often time the case that the many different uses for cocoa are analyzed in order to determine cocoa’s true significance and impact on some of the world’s earliest documented civilizations. In today’s modern world, it has become the norm to view chocolate as either a simple snack, or as nothing more than a gift that one might give his or her loved one as a means for celebration on a special day. However, once one begins to delve deep into the cocoa’s earliest roots, it can immediately be seen how it not only played a significant role in how different civilizations, such as the Maya, viewed cocoa, but also, how it was able to, in part, dictate a large part of how their civilizations were organized and governed. Despite how common chocolate is today, such is the case that some of the main methods by which cocoa was used in the Mayan civilization, to our knowledge, include using cocoa as a means to flash their wealth, marry other individuals, and as an exchange of currency throughout society.

Cocoa as a Portrayal of Wealth 

Despite the fact that a number of civilizations drank cocoa for a multitude of reasons, whether it was cleansing of the body or as a means for socializing, there is strong evidence that points to the notion that one of the most common uses of cocoa in both the the Mayan civilization was both as a tool for the elites to convey both power as well as a negotiation tool (Dorie Reents-Budet). In order to do this, it was not unusual to see wealthy elites flash their wealth in front of their peers by taking part in gift presentations that common individuals would not be able to afford. By doing this, elites were able to claim a stake in society and were often times able to make a point in regards to the amount of wealth that they had. Of course, in civilizations such as the Maya, more wealth, in this case, also meant more political power, thereby being granted the ability to enact change within society due to this certain wealth. As such, it is therefore argued in many historical contexts that cocoa was able to play a lead role in appealing to the wealthy, while it was more likely the case that the common, everyday individual did not have much access to cocoa throughout his or her lifetime.

Portrayal of a Mayan Polychrome Vase being utilized for the purpose of serving chocolate during a presumably elite occasion (McNeil, Collections of New Orleans Museum of Art. Photograph copyright Justin Kerr).

Cocoa as a Means for Marriage 

The notion of cocoa became incredibly central to the idea of a Mayan marriage with the introduction of a ritual referred to as the tac haa, which is to be translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink” (Martin “Mesoamerica”). The fact that tac haa was considered to be a key component in order for a man to be able to ask a father whether or not he would be able to marry the father’s daughter is a strong indicator of just how significant cocoa was throughout this time period. Equally as important to point out is the that “these feasts celebrated significant political events, such as royal marriage or military victory; in that context, serving cocoa was a way to display wealth, and therefore power” (Leissle 36). Within this context, it can be seen that cocoa’s role in Mayan civilization extended from being able to inquire about marrying a specific woman all the way to conveying to outsiders the amount of power that they had via the celebration of the marriage.

Portrayal of the ritual of tac haa taking place, in which a man would request to discuss a marriage with the father of the woman he wished to marry (Martin).

Cocoa as a Means for Currency 

Perhaps one of the most indicative aspects of the Mayan civilization that points to just how central cocoa was to society is the way in which they started to use cocoa as a means for currency. In terms of using cocoa as a means for currency, individuals would use cocoa beans as a method to be able to exchange or purchase goods, such as food or other amenities (Museum of the National Bank of Belgium). In addition to being used as a currency, individuals would often times take their cocoa beans and make a drink referred to as Xocoatl. The fact that cocoa was able to be used as currency within the civilization shows the heavy importance that individuals would place on cocoa. Not only that, but it is also able to show that they not only saw cocoa as a simple food that grew on trees, but rather, as nothing short of a lifestyle design.

Modern-day portrayal of how Xocoatl might have been made during the time of the Maya’s existence (Geographic).

Works Cited 

Dorie Reents-Budet, “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica .

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa, Polity Press, 2018.28:48.

Geographic, National. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making | National Geographic.” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Oct. 2017,

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard College: Cambridge, MA. Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mcneil, Cameron. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” 2009, doi:10.5744/florida/9780813029535.001.0001.

“Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.” A Tasty Currency: Cocoa – Museum of the National Bank of Belgium,

The Ritual Significance of Cacao in Pre-Colombian Mesoamerica

Chocolate and other cocao-based products were first produced by Mesoamerican natives from the beans of the cacao tree, theobroma cacao, pictured below. The genus of cacao’s scientific name, theobroma, means “food of the gods,” and the species name, cacao, is the Mesoamerican name for the tree and its beans (Coe and Coe 2007, 17-18). This scientific name is particularly appropriate for cacao, as the tree and its beans carried great significance in Mesoamerican religions. Cacao was indeed associated with the gods and important rituals in Maya and Aztec societies. In pre-Columbian Maya and Aztec civilizations, cacao was significant for religious customs and beliefs surrounding death, fertility, and economic exchange.

Cacao Tree - Theobroma cacao
Figure 1: Theobroma cacao tree and pods

Cacao and Death

In pre-Colombian Mesoamerica, cacao was ritually connected to and representative of death. The cacao tree grows in the shady understory of the lowland tropical forests of Central America (Coe and Coe 2007). Because of cacao’s love of shade, the tree was associated with night and the Underworld in Mesoamerican societies (Leissle 2018). In the Maya origin myth, the central deity, the Maize God, is beheaded in the Underworld. The Maize God’s head is then hung on none other than the cacao tree. Cacao beverages were often prepared by adding achiote, a red plant substance, that colored the drink red and linked cacao to blood (Leissle 2018). In Figure 2 below, the cacao tree is depicted as one of the four sacred trees of Aztec society, representing the South. The pods of the cacao tree in the image are painted red, harkening this connection to blood and resembling a human heart (Coe and Coe 2007, 103). The ghostly spectre of Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of the Land of the Dead, is depicted standing beside the cacao tree on one side, reinforcing cacao’s connection to death and the Underworld (Coe and Coe 2007, 103). Cacao was also utilized as an offering in human sacrifices, especially by the Aztecs (though human sacrifice was likely not as widespread as Spanish accounts suggest) (Leissle 2018). In both Maya and Aztec societies, cacao was not only a food but an important symbol of the transition between this life and the next. Because of cacao’s religious significance, the consumption of cacao in these Mesoamerican societies was a symbolic act in itself.

Figure 2: pre-Columbian Aztec ritual calendar depicting the four quarters of the universe, four world-trees, and nine gods , taken from the Codex Fejervary-Mayer (Coe and Coe 2007, 102). The cacao tree of the South is depicted on the right.

Cacao and Fertility

In Mesoamerican religion, cacao was also associated with rebirth and fertility. In Mesoamerican ideology, death is the foundation for new life (Martin 2009). In the Maya origin myth introduced above, from the Maize God’s corpse, the next generation is conceived and fruit-bearing trees sprout, specifically the coveted cacao tree (Martin 2009). In this cycle of death and rebirth, cacao was not only an important symbol of death in Mesoamerican cultures but also a symbol of fertility and life. Mesoamerican people believed that humans were created by the gods from the food crops that sustained life, especially cacao and maize (Coe and Coe 2007). As a symbol of new life, cacao was often exchanged to endorse marriage alliances in both Maya and Aztec societies (Martin and Sampeck 2016; Coe and Coe 2007). Brides and bridegrooms in marriage ceremonies would often gift cacao beans or beverages to one another and engage in chokola’j, the act of drinking chocolate together, to seal the wedding pact (Coe and Coe 2007, 61). This exchange of cacao was a blessing of fertility for the couple.

Cacao and Wealth

Beyond the social exchanges of marriage and fertility, cacao was also important for economic exchanges and ritual displays of wealth. Cacao beans were used as valuable currency by Maya and Aztec people. Cacao became associated with trade and mercantilism as the merchant class in Mesoamerican societies transported precious cacao beans and seasonings from distant areas of production throughout the Maya and Aztec civilizations (Coe and Coe 2007). Figure 3 below depicts the Maya Merchant God (Ek Chuah or God L) with a cacao tree. The Merchant God in the image is located at the botom of a set of stairs; this location is quite purposeful because the Merchant God was also the principal deity of the Underworld. Thus God L has a two-fold connection to cacao as both an important trade item and a symbol of death (Martin 2009). Cacao was such a valuable currency and sacred food item that Mesoamericans were buried with cacao in their tombs to take with them into the afterlife (Coe and Coe 2007, 47; Leissle 2018). Cacao in daily life and in Mesoamerican religion was a symbol of power and wealth that could even aide one in death. In life, Mesoamerican elites would also display their wealth and power by hosting feasts at which guests drank chocolate beverages (Coe and Coe 2007). Cacao as a symbol of wealth in life and in death interweaves these ritual themes of death, rebirth, and economic exchange.

Figure 3: The Maya Merchant God with a cacao tree on a 9th century mural at Cacaxtla in central Mexico (Coe and Coe 2007, 55).

Concluding Thoughts

The spiritual meanings of cacao as it related to death, fertility, and economic exchange in Mesoamerican societies were interconnected in complex and significant ways. Cacao served in Maya and Aztec cultures as a symbol of the afterlife, yet the afterlife was also intimately connected with the idea of rebirth and fertility. Thus, cacao carried meanings of both death and new life. Additionally, cacao came to be associated with wealth, power, and trade. The significance of cacao in economic exchange transcended both life and death as the Maya and Aztec elites displayed their wealth in cacao through ritual feasts while living and in their burial chambers after death. Cacao for the Maya and Aztec was so much more than a food product or a beverage. Cacao was thoroughly integrated into Mesoamerican peoples’ belief systems and ways of life.

If the reader is interested in further exploring cacao’s ritual significance in Mesoamerica, check out this video production:


2013. “Xiuhtecuhtli 1.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved March 14, 2019 (

Bjorn, S. 2016. “Cacao Tree: Theobroma Cacao.” Flickr. Retrieved March 15, 2019 (

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2007. The True History of Chocolate. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Leissle, Kristy. 2018. Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”, 37-60.

Martin, Simon. 2009. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and other Tales from the Underworld.” Pp. 154-183 in Chocolate in Mesoamerica. Edited by McNeil, Cameron L. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press.

Sandra Origins. 2016. “Cacao Pathway to the Gods: Sacred Cacao Rituals.” You-Tube Web site. Retrieved March 14, 2019 (

Zaman, Tim. 2012. “Caxatla Mural Del Templo Rojo.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved March 14, 2019 (

Slavery in Chocolate: William Cadbury’s Role

In both Catherine Higgs’ Chocolate Islands and Lowell J. Satre’s Chocolate on Trial, the authors examine William Cadbury’s efforts to end slavery in Sao Tome, Principe, and Angola, countries from where the Cadbury company sourced 45% of their cacao in 1900 (Satre 19). Although Cadbury should certainly be commended for his role in fighting this inhumane institution, it seems that his desire to not destabilize an important source of cacao for the Cadbury chocolate brand caused him to take actions that prevented labor conditions from improving at a faster rate. Had Cadbury truly been the humanitarian he is often portrayed to be, he would have made dramatic changes to the way the Cadbury company conducted business even if it resulted in significant loss of profits, as opposed to taking actions that improved his public image but did little to induce real change.

William Cadbury was aware of the use of slave labor in San Tome cacao plantations by 1901, if not before, as he was notified about slave labor while abroad in Trinidad (Satre 18). Soon after, Cadbury received an offer for a plantation in Sao Tome, which listed black laborers as assets, confirming the use of slave labor (Satre 18). Upon hearing these reports of slave labor, Cadbury wrote that he “feel[s] that there is a vast difference between the cultivation of cacao and gold or diamond mining, and [he] should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that as far as [he] can judge provides labour of the very best kind” (Satre 19). It seems clear that from the beginning Cadbury was reluctant to cut ties with a location that grew almost half of his company’s cacao.

Information regarding the labor abuses in West Africa continued to pour in during the early 1900s. In November of 1900 an English newspaper, The Antislavery Reporter, published the experiences of a commercial traveler who described “slaves being marched from the interior of Angola” and the “many dead and decomposing bodies by the roadside” (Satre 21). These experiences were emphasized repeatedly by travelers soon after, yet Cadbury continued to respond that “[he does] not feel [him]self called upon to take any initial step in the matter” (Satre 22). For a Quaker individual who was involved in multiple antislavery organizations and prided himself on being a humanitarian, his lack of action is quite surprising and seems to discredit his compassionate image. The photograph below of a 1902 Cadbury advertisement demonstrates a chilling irony, as the chocolate is advertised as “pure,” despite its production relying on an “impure” form of coerced labor.

Cadbury finally decided to take limited action in 1903. He traveled to Portugal to interview Sao Tome plantation owners regarding the systematic labor abuses and was successful in helping to establish new labor regulations regarding minimum wage and laws against labor recruitment (Satre 23). Cadbury was even willing to take further action by sending a representative to investigate labor conditions. After dismissing Matthew Sober as a candidate for being “too outspoken in his criticism of Portuguese practices” (Satre 25), Cadbury stalled for quite a while before finally landing on Joseph Burtt. Although Cadbury should be commended for sponsoring his own investigation of cacao plantation labor conditions, it is notable that it took Cadbury four years from when he first heard about the use of slavery. 

Furthermore, there was ample information already available regarding the practice of slavery, which seems to suggest that Cadbury may have launched his own investigation primarily as a stalling tactic. Henry Woodd Nevinson finished his African travels just as Burtt was beginning his two-year journey and, upon returning to England, detailed his experiences in articles complete with pictures in Harper’s Monthly Magazine (Satre 7, 8). Nevinson reports how slave traders would travel deep into the interior to recruit slaves, who would then be marched to the coast, many going to Sao Tome and Principe. The picture below shows the displaced and disoriented slaves after arriving on Sao Tome. Slaves would then be asked to sign a five-year work contract and made to do so regardless of their reply (Nevinson, 30, 38, 196). There can be no debate that the Portuguese antislavery laws were ignored and that the labor provided by Africans on the cacao plantations was largely unfree.

Not only were the workers unfree, but they were also horribly mistreated. Nevinson describes how, as he walked the inland slave routes, “it would take an army of sextons to bury all the poor bones which consecrate the path” (Satre 1), a chilling idea that is substantiated by the ominous photograph below of a skull. Once the slaves arrived on the plantation, treatment was no better. Corporal punishment was common, and Nevinson details one encounter with a badly bloodied slave whose punishment if he attempted to escape again would be “death by flogging in front of the owner’s other slaves” (Satre 6). On Sao Tome, the death rate for slaves was estimated by one plantation doctor to be twelve to fourteen percent, while a superintendent suggested the child mortality rate was 25 percent per year (Satre 10). These estimates are presumably an underestimate if anything, given they came from plantation employees.

Even if earlier suggestions of slavery had not been enough to motivate Cadbury to stop sourcing his cacao from these areas, there is no excuse for Cadbury to have ignored Nevinson’s graphic written and photographic evidence. Burtt’s journey had been rendered largely redundant at this point and it seems clear that Cadbury was waiting on Burtt’s findings merely as a way to push off cutting ties with slave grown cacao and inevitably hurting Cadbury’s profitability.

Once Burtt had finished his report and returned to England, Cadbury continued to do his best to minimize the impact of the report and stall any real changes from occurring. Despite admitting that labor in Portugal’s colonies was “in almost every sense as bad as the old-time slavery” (Satre 76), Cadbury and the other chocolate companies pressured antislavery publications to avoid writing about labor abuses on the West African cacao plantations and did not want to publish Burtt’s report, which Higgs notes had already been heavily edited to weaken the strength of the accusations and avoid using the word “slavery” (136). Cadbury instead wanted the Portuguese government to take actions to fix the issue of slavery and Satre notes that “Cadbury proved willing…to berate those who questioned his strategy” (79). These actions are not indicative of an individual who is wholeheartedly fighting for change.

Burtt’s report was finally released to the Portuguese planters in 1907, which resulted in new labor standards for the Portuguese colonies. Yet Cadbury was “willing to give the Portuguese a generous amount of time” (Satre 98). Satre suggests that Cadbury was “naïve at best” to think that meaningful change would come from the new labor regulations (Satre 99). This analysis still seems too flattering to Cadbury, who appears, throughout the entire period from 1901 to 1908, to have been largely willing to ignore the true severity of slave labor and merely take actions to appease the public. A quote by the head of another large chocolate maker, Fry, seems to sum up Cadbury’s attitude, as Fry said, “the quality of Sao Tome’s cocoa made it ‘very difficult to decline to buy it’” (Higgs 133) For an individual who prided himself on his humanitarian Quaker values and who is regarded highly today for these same values, these actions are reprehensible and serve to tarnish his reputation. 

Even evidence from today suggests a surprising disconnect between William Cadbury and the efforts to eliminate slave labor in West Africa. The charitable trust in Cadbury’s name says nothing about working to address the ongoing issue of slave labor and child labor in West African cacao production (“William Cadbury Charitable Trust”). Although the other philanthropic goals are noble, it seems surprising that the trust would not support an issue about which Cadbury was purported to be quite passionate and which is still such an important issue in the chocolate industry today.

Works Cited

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

Nevinson, Henry Woodd. A Modern Slavery. Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1906. 

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

“William Adlington Cadbury Charitable Trust.” Registered Charity, 2012, 

Media Cited (in order of appearance)

Cadbury advertisement:

Slaves in Sao Tome and Skull:;view=1up;seq=160

More Sugar! – The Causes of the Rise in British Sugar Consumption

During the 17thcentury all the way through the early 20thcentury, sugar had an incredible rise in production and consumption. This rise in consumption was especially prevalent in Britain. When sugar first arrived in Britain during the middle ages, it was primarily used by the upper class as a sparingly used spice. However, by the 18thand 19thcentury, sugar became a heavily used by all social classes. At the beginning of the 18thcentury the average British person was consuming 4 pounds of sugar per year. However, by the early 20thcentury that number had skyrocketed to about 90 pounds of sugar per person per year (Mintz). This exponential rise in British sugar consumption can be explained by a number of different factors. In this post I will outline the potential economic, practical, and scientific causes for this unforeseen rise in British sugar consumption. 

Graph showing the massive increase in British sugar consumption. 
Image Source 


First and Foremost, the rise in British sugar consumption was definitely caused in-part by the increased production and availability of sugar that the Triangular Trade provided. The Triangular Trade was a trans-Atlantic trade system that included the shipping of slaves from Africa to the Caribbean to work on plantations. In total, about “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations” (Sugar and Slavery). This Triangular trade took place during the 17thand 18thcentury and was a huge part of the increase in sugar production in the Caribbean. This increase in production through slavery, created an enormous increase in sugar availability and consumption in Britain. Eventually, Britain began to question the ethics of sugar consumption because “slavery in England… had been deemed illegal since 1772” (Sugar and Slavery). However, even after the end of the Triangular Trade, consumption of sugar per capita continued to rise. Slavery, an increase sugar production, and the increase of sugar availability were all major factors as to why sugar consumption skyrocketed in England.

Image depicting the Triangular Trade and its vastness.  
Image Source

Another reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was the extreme versatility sugar had. Once the British began to trade for massive amounts of sugar, they realized it can have several purposes. Among other things, sugar could be used in medicine, jams, syrups, tea, coffee, fruit drinks, and in deserts (Mintz). Sugar also had decorative purposes as it could be formed into sculptures. However, the uses of sugar as a preservative and sweetener was definitely a major factor of the rise in sugar consumption. With sugar, the British could now preserve their fruits as jams which resulted in a major change in the British culture forever. Jam spread on bread evolved into a staple meal for the British in the 19thcentury. This was mainly because it was a quick and easy meal that provided a sufficient number of calories, especially as women and children entered the industrial workforce. This easy meal for women and children allowed the British economy to thrive “without increasing proportionately the quantities of meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products” (Mintz). This change in diet was heavily reflected in data because “by 1900, it [sugar] was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (Mintz). In the end, the cheap cost of sugar as well as its versatility definitely played a major role in the rise in British sugar consumption. 

The last potential reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was science. This was actually a reason for the rise in sugar consumption globally too. When you eat sugar there is a natural reaction by the body to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the “reward circuit associated with addictive behaviors” (Schaefer and Yasin). Essentially anything that causes the body to release dopamine can become very addictive because the only way to fulfill the dopamine high again is to do the same thing that caused the original high. Thus, when one eats sugar, the only way to feel that exact “high” again is to eat sugar again. Furthermore, since the body acclimates to things that cause dopamine releases, it requires higher amounts of sugar in higher frequency to achieve the original sugar “high” sensation (Schaefer and Yasin). This has been proven scientifically and some even believe that “sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain” (Schaefer and Yasin).  This addictive effect on the brain definitely had a big impact on why the British kept demanding and consuming more and more sugar as time passed. 

Diagram depicting the cycle of addiction that sugar can cause.
Image Source

In the end, it is safe to say that there is nothing that was the sole cause for the rise in British sugar consumption. It was undoubtedly a combination of all the things I have talked about in this post. The increasing affordability of sugar made it economically smart, the versatility of sugar made it practically smart, and the addictive properties of sugar made it scientifically irresistible. Together these factors combined to cause “the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market” (Martin).  

Scholarly Sources Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao’” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 20 Feb. 2019.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.
  • Schaefer, Anna, and Kareem Yasin. “Is Sugar the Next ‘Street Drug’?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 June 2015, Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE.
  • “Sugar and Slavery.” Sugar in the Atlantic World | Case 6 Sugar and Slavery,

Media Sources Cited

Chocolate Consumption and Societal Divides

Chocolate in Europe, brought to Spain originally from Mesoamerica in the 1500s, has amassed into a staple of almost everyone’s diet today. However, the history of chocolate consumption and its social constructs have expanded and changed over the centuries since chocolate’s first venture into Europe. Chocolate began as a drink, medicine, and eventually a snack “among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 125). However, as time went on, and the price and availability of chocolate began to expand to beyond the upper circles of Europe, the elitism that surrounded chocolate still existed. Even today, when majority of people consume chocolate—often times in similar forms, for example as a bar or hot beverage—there still is a separation between chocolate for commoners and chocolate for the wealthy. How come even though there have been drastic consumption changes over the centuries, in quantity and form, there is still a strong social tension amongst different types of chocolate? By looking at the history of chocolate, it will become clearer that chocolate has always had societal divisions and it is merely impossible to fully break away from those constructs that are inherent to chocolate.

Chocolate for European Elites

In order to understand how consumption in Europe has and has not changed over the centuries, it is important to start at the beginning of chocolate in Europe. Once chocolate was brought over to Europe through Spain during the Renaissance, it was immediately viewed as for elites only— “it was in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed” (Coe and Coe, 125). While Spaniards more or less “stripped [the chocolate beverage] of the spiritual meaning” attached to it by the Aztec and Maya, they did start by consuming the beverage as a drug or medicine for healing (Coe and Coe, 126). This consumption was often matched with mix-ins custom to Spain and Europe, such as “atole and sugar” for a colder drink or “honey and hot water” for a more soothing hot beverage (Coe and Coe, 134).

However, this beverage was still strictly for the elites of Europe even once it started to spread throughout the continent. As time progressed, the royals started to create more recipes of chocolate beverages to be served to special guest, with a princess in 1679 recalling: “There was iced chocolate, another hot, and another with Milk and Eggs; one took it with a biscuit…besides this, they take it with so much pepper and so many spices” (Coe and Coe, 136). With the spread of popularity amongst chocolate beverages, there also were technical advances to enhance the experience. For example, the Spanish royals invented mancerina, a decorative saucer and small plate that helped avoid spills on fancy clothing (Coe and Coe, 134-5).

Spanish porcelain mancerina used by royalty to avoid spilling their chocolate beverages. The cocoa drink would be placed in the middle ring of the mancerina.

Sugar Becomes a Chocolate Equalizer

Skipping ahead, with the addition of sugar mass production, chocolate became a consumable good for almost everyone around Europe and the world, breaking down many original societal barriers. During the early 1800s, the British “national consumption [of sugar] was about 300 million pounds per year,” rising to over a billion pounds in 1852 as prices continued to drop (Mintz, 143). The addition of sugar allowed for chocolate to more easily become mass produced, creating more affordability and accessibility throughout Europe. By 1856, “sugar consumption was forty times higher than it had been only 150 years earlier,” allowing for everyone—wealthy and poor alike—to enjoy such treats in different forms (Mintz, 143).

1885 Cadbury advertisement markets towards the “public,” claiming their cocoa is “exhilarating, comforting, and sustaining” as well as “guaranteed absolutely pure.”

Sugar was a major success in creating access to chocolate throughout history, giving way for major chocolate companies such as Lindt and Cadbury to become the “producers of majority of the world’s chocolate” (Martin and Sampeck, 49). For the first time in history, chocolate was being consumed in similar forms at similar price points by both the wealthy and poor because of these large manufactures—arguably stripping away many societal differences inherent to chocolate by creating a consistent form of chocolate everyone could enjoy. However, as the prices decreased, the quality of chocolate also decreased, with many large manufacturers “even cutting out…the substance that gives quality to superior chocolates: cacao butter” (Coe and Coe, 257). As lower quality chocolate created by major companies became a staple of poorer and working-class citizens, the elites often would opt to fly to specific regions of Europe—such as Switzerland or Belgium—to indulge in their high-quality chocolate from chocolatiers (Coe and Coe, 258). Therefore, even though sugar allowed for some narrowing of the social constructs surrounding chocolate, there was still a market for superior forms that are only accessible for a wealthier audience.

Still a Divide with Chocolate Today

Today, chocolate still holds of great importance to many peoples’ lives, with chocolate consumptions estimates for 2018/2019 at 7.7 million tons globally (“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide,” Statista). However, even with the advances in chocolate consumption over the many centuries, there are still similar societal constraints around chocolate. While the different forms of chocolate are often times similar amongst upper and lower classes—ranging from hot beverages or bars to baked goods—the quality and price ranges can heavily vary, instilling a separation and exclusivity in societal groups that existed even in the 1500s when chocolate was introduced to Europe. For example, the range in quality of chocolate products is vast: there exist fair trade chocolate sourced in more humane manners, specific species of cacao pods with better characteristics and richer flavors, granulated texture differences, and even different percentages of cacao in chocolate mixtures. One can go to a deluxe chocolatier shop somewhere in Switzerland or Belgium and purchase extreme, rare examples of certain types of chocolate—frequently at higher prices. However, these levels of chocolate are often inaccessible to others of not a higher social class because they require having more money and the ability to reach the areas where superior-quality chocolate is created—such as expensive regions in Switzerland. For these other social groups, the desire for chocolate could still be just as strong, but the more realistic options are to purchase mass-produced chocolate, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars or M&Ms, that are often associated with quick, convenient snacks that are affordable.

This social distinction around chocolate exists even in Harvard Square today, where one could purchase a quality, single source hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick from specific locations such as Ecuador (with an “earthy finish”) or Madagascar (with “fruity notes”) at a starting price of $5.50 (“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick). On the other hand, one could instead go to CVS in Harvard Square and purchase a 10 pack of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix for $2.79, averaging $0.28 per serving (“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS). There is clearly an audience for both choices, but the more accessible version is at CVS because it is drastically more affordable and easily accessible at any CVS around the world, while L.A. Burdick is a specialty chocolate shop with a much higher price point and only a few locations. So even though there have been major advances in chocolate and the levels of consumption over the last few centuries—including the expansion of different forms of consumptions and the spread of accessibility beyond the upper-class nobilities—there still persists a divide when it comes to chocolate today.

Based on the history of chocolate, it seems unlikely that societal constructs around chocolate will ever completely disappear because there will always be a market for better quality, more elaborate chocolate consumption as well as affordable, accessible chocolate. However, as the interest in “fine flavor” chocolate continues to grow in more recent decades, then more “small-batch chocolate companies” will begin to come around “with a heavy focus on batch production, flavor, quality, and perceived ethical sourcing of raw ingredients,” creating more access and maybe eventually lower prices of higher quality product for everyone to enjoy (Martin and Sampeck, 54). While the future is uncertain, one steadfast is that chocolate will still be present in most peoples’ lives because of its unifying, joyous, cherished qualities that impact people on a daily basis—no matter one’s social rank.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide, 2012/13-2018/19 | Statistic.” Statista, Statista, Nov. 2015,

Martin, Carla D., and Sampeck, Kathryn E. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”, no. special issue 3, 2016, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/

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

“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate,

“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS,

Multimedia Sources

Anonymous, Cadbury’s Cocoa advert with rower 1885. Wikimedia Commons, Accessed 11 March 2019.

Anonymous, Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons, 6 August 2013,,_17th_century.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Daderot. Talavera mancerina (chocolate cup holder), ceramic – Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas – Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, 10 October 2014,,ceramicMuseo_Nacional_de_Artes_DecorativasMadrid,_Spain-_DSC08143.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Lam, Willis. Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa. Flickr, 2 December 2014, Accessed 11 March 2019.

Phelan, John. L A Burdick Chocolate, Walpole NH. Wikimedia Commons, 26 April 2014,,_Walpole_NH.jpg. Accessed 11 March 2019.