Tag Archives: Cadbury

Cadbury Chocolate Debate: Resolving Moral and Economic Contradictions

In 1901, the Cadbury company, which employed workers in Britain to make chocolate, started becoming aware of a brewing ethical crisis. Though the company prided itself on caring for its employees with Quaker hospitality, they now learned that São Tomé and Príncipé, African islands in the Portuguese Empire, were potentially using a form of labor that was effectively slavery on the cocoa farms. The drama primarily unfolded amidst the clash between the harsh reality of economic self-interest and a universal liberal moral consensus of antislavery. Ultimately, the work of investigative journalists made it untenable for Cadbury and other stakeholders to continue to triangulate between the two contradictory forces, and the forces of liberal consensus proved to be more powerful for Cadbury.

To understand how Cadbury ended up in this quagmire, it is helpful to understand that the company’s identity held contradictory elements from its beginning. The company insisted that its mission was not solely to make money, but to also model a morally superior Quaker society. Religious discrimination prevented Quakers from many areas of social and political power, but the Quakers provided support for each other, and many were able to succeed in business (Satre 14). The Cadbury family was highly involved in charity work, and aimed to build the rural village of Bournville (also the name of the factory) into a model city as part of the “Garden City movement, designed to improve the living conditions of its people” (Satre 16).

Still, even before the Cadbury debate, there were hints that this best of both worlds narrative, which portrayed the company as both morally and economically superior, was covering over disheartening contradictions. Specifically, the company often would choose money over morals. The company operated under a “marriage bar,” which forced female employees to leave upon becoming married. Cadbury justified it by explaining that “Cadbury did not want to take mothers away from their homes and children” (Newkey-Burden). Yet Cadbury employed large numbers of single women to keep expenses down, and had to separate the sexes in the factory to protect the single women. Further, many Cadbury workers could not afford the rents in Cadbury’s model village (Satre 16). These factors raise fair suspicious that Cadbury’s actions were sometimes motivated more by economic factors (i.e. young, single women could be paid less) rather than by their proclaimed moral intentions (i.e. promoting motherhood).

As the scandal burst onto the public awareness after journalist Henry Nevinson’s articles (Satre 82), Cadbury’s reputation was in a particularly vulnerable position. Its predicament was summed up well by a journal’s wry observation that “the cocao and chocolate which are turned out in this country by philanthropic manufacturers with the most scrupulous of care for the welfare of their employees, should have been grown under the most infamous and revolting conditions of murderous slavery” (Satre 83). This contrast can be displayed through a 1960 BBC video clip of Bessbrook model village (link, BBC) with images from slave condition. Bessbrook served as inspiration for Bournville, and the BBC reporter notes its “quiet dignity,” and remarks that the park and childrens playgrounds are “well-kept and free from litter”. As a goose gracefully swims in lake, the reporter nostalgically describes the bygone era in which the Quaker companies “were concerned with the social welfare of their workers.” Even after scandals of São Tomé and Príncipé, the benevolent image continued to hold its place in the public’s mind, as evidenced by the wistful mood of the video.

In contrast, Nevinson’s image (link, Nevinson) of the slaves being transported by ship encapsulates the complete disempowerment of the slaves. While the BBC video extols the parks and playgrounds, the mass of woman and their children are crowded lifelessly on the deck, with no space to leisurely roam about even if they wanted to. Only a few of the women in the picture have the energy to sit up, and of those, many appear to avert the gaze of the camera, perhaps in shame. The two women who do make eye contact appear mournfully resigned to their predicament.

The advertisement for Cadbury provides another contrasting example. Two woman happily look down at the expansive, well-manicured soccer field that the children are playing on (link, Wilson). The field is surrounded by impressive architecture of Cadbury, perhaps signifying the benevolently paternalistic ethos of Cadbury. The women appear pleased to be contributing members of the model society, and their lively children on the soccer field contrast sharply with the hapless children resting in the laps of the women slaves.

Not only was slavery against the proclaimed morals of the Quaker’s, but the major players in the debate were united, at least ostensibly, in a liberal moral consensus of antislavery. Slavery had already been officially banned in both the British and Portuguese empires, so the debate was not over a moral dispute about slavery, but over a dispute of fact (Satre 2). Portugal claimed that the native laborers were voluntarily entering five year labor contracts, but Nevinson brought forth evidence the Portuguese system of “contract labor” was effectively the same as slavery (Satre 7).

Portugal’s insistence on its own propriety had a practical effect of constraining its ability to reign in threats such as Nevinson. Even though the “slave traders were aware of Nevinson’s presence and purpose” (Satre 5), he was allowed to proceed in peace (except for a poisoning incident which was possibly intentional). Instead of actively confronting Nevinson, slave traders avoided Nevinson by taking alternative paths, camouflaging the slaves as carriers, and taking other steps to disguise their practices (Satre 5). Since the Portuguese insisted they had nothing to hide, they even promoted visits to a “‘model’ plantation in São Tomé, ‘a show-place for the intelligent foreigner or for the Portuguese shareholder who feels qualms as he banks his dividends” (Satre 10). Nevinson was not impressed with the “model” plantation, especially when the doctor admitted a twelve to fourteen percent annual death rate, with the chief cause being “‘anaemia’ brought on by ‘unhappiness’” (Satre 10).

When Cadbury company decided to send William Burtt as a representative to investigate the allegations of slavery, the Portuguese not only tolerated Burtt, but actually consistently displayed hospitality to him (Higgs 141). As Cadbury negotiated with the Portuguese over reforms to the labor system, the Portuguese emphasized that they shared the company’s “‘liberal and humane sentiment’”(Higgs 141). While the Portuguese might have secretly wished to forcefully end the investigations from Nevinson and Burtt, their options were limited by their official stance of antislavery.

Cadbury was rightfully fearful of the consequences of the public outrage generated by journalists such as Nevinson. It was a “public relations nightmare” for the firm, with consumers mailing Cadbury with comments such as “You pious Frauds” (Higgs 153). The public image fallout even impacted the members of a jury, in which they ruled in favor of Cadbury’s libel lawsuit against a critical article, but only rewarded one farthing (one quarter of a penny) in damages, strongly implying their lack of sympathy for the company (Higgs 152). While a cynical interpretation is that companies and countries only act in their own self-interest, journalists such as Nevinson demonstrate that when journalists are allowed to do their jobs, the public has a chance to demand changes to the status quo.

Works Cited

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

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

Wilson, An. 2010. How the Cadbury family of the Victorian age would put today’s fat cats to shame

Nevinson, Henry. 1906. A Modern Slavery

Newkey-Burden, Chas . 2018.Who were the Cadbury Angels?

BBC Roving Reporter, 1960. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOCne_jgJlA

Cadbury Brothers, Claimed Innovators but More of the Same

Cacao production into chocolate was quite an exclusive market in its infancy, but as the world became smaller and opportunities became more available for the right price the world of chocolate became more competitive. Chocolate no longer was the product of the British elites; both commoner and royalty could enjoy the foreign and exotic delight. In order to make it in the industry one not only had to make their mark in the chocolate market, but also reduce costs in order to at minimum come out even, and at maximum come out with a profit. Companies had to invest in confectionary techniques, land, import and export services, as well as labor. The Cadbury Brothers and their descendants are no exception. Despite clears laws passed to eliminate the usage of any form of slave labor in any industry the Cadbury Family knowingly purchased raw materials from companies that utilized forced labor. Due to the Cadbury Company remaining complicit to the nature of their retrieval of cacao it provided the legacy for continued forced labor to this day.

Cadbury Family

On the Cadbury website when exploring the timeline of the Cadbury Family history there are multiple years deemed noteworthy by the company of years that marked major milestones in their development. One of the years of significance was 1861 when the company was handed down from John Cadbury to his sons Richard and George. A particular excerpt from the passage about the transfer of power of the company not only highlights the complete disregard for how the product was collected, but the companies skewed view of how it became the chocolate giant it is today.

“Although they’d both worked for the company for a number of years, taking control must still have been a daunting prospect for Richard and George. Other cocoa manufacturers were going bust; and they must have been worried that Cadbury Bros would soon be joining them. Luckily they had a financial lifeline: each invested £4,000 in the business, money that had been left to them by their mother. It was equivalent of about £600,000 today, but it didn’t solve all their problems. The first few years were tough. To keep the business alive, the brothers worked long hours and lived frugally…[Richard] commented that if they business ever made a profit of a thousand pounds a year he would retire a happy man.”


The comments of living “frugally” and the aspiration for profit must’ve range true for Richard’s sons and nephews because Barrow, William, Edward, and George Jr. continued the legacy of doing whatever it took to see a profit. Henry Nevinson, a journalist, insured to inform the public on how the Cadbury Bros reached that profit and the lives they were willing to exploit. Nevinson claimed that Cadbury chocolate was investing in slavery in order to keep their profit margins high and cost low. Nevinson’s report was met with shock from many of Cadbury’s consumers. William Cadbury in pursuit to distance the company from the slavery rumors and to highlight the fair treatment of the laborers on the cacao plantations hired his good friend Joseph Burtt to perform a private investigation into the claims. The goal was the to refute Nevinson’s claims, but all that Burtt saw was the dark reality Nevinson was briging to the light.

William Cadbury (1867-1957), Co-Director of Cadbury Brothers Ltd.

Joseph Burtt

Joseph Burtt traveled to São Tomé and Príncipe to investigate the treatment of the laborers on the plantation, and while there had met Nevinson and was able to engage with Nevinson about his research and gain further knowledge of the practices. Though Burtt was hired as a “nonpartisan” observer, he is not a practiced journalist or expert in slavery, so it was necessary to utilize all resources to provide a clear picture of the conditions. Through his time in São Tomé and Prícipe Burtt could find no evidence to contradict Nevinson’s findings. On May 2, 1907 Joseph Burtt met with the board of directors of Rowntree, competitors with Cadbury Brothers, and made clear that “beyond all doubt…the negro labourers in the Cocoa plantation of S. Thomé and Príncípe are in the condition of practical slavery, and the methods by which this negro labour is obtained from the mainland of Africa is cruel and villainous” (Satre 74).

Joseph Burtt

Burtt on the heels of his investigation had a report ready for release, but was stopped by the Cadbury Brothers and British Foreign office and was encouraged to delay the release of the report in order to allow the Portuguese government to review the report and to initiate the proper departments to halt the vicious practices. Both the British government and the Cadbury family actively censured Burtt. As earlier highlighted, the Cadbury Family was focused on keeping low costs and having consistent consumers, a report of actively engaging with and receiving materials from slave labor would have massive negative implications for the company. “The report that finally emerged in mid-July 1907 was several pages shorter than the December 1906 original. More than a few of Burtt’s lengthy descriptive passages had been excised…the most striking difference between the two reports was the careful language in the 1907 version. As Burtt acknowledged, great care was taken to avoid ‘referring to the services as slaves or to the servical system as slavery, because, approaching the matter as I did with an open mind, I have wished to avoid question-begging epithets’” (Higgs 136). The active censure of words, misinformation, and pursuit to deceive the public not only illustrates the massive problem of government agencies and private companies looking to subvert law, but also Cadbury Brothers Limited actively engaging in slave labor.

Continued Legacy

Due to the legacy of companies like Cadbury Brothers the practice of forced labor is a continued practice today. In countries like the Ivory Coast and Ghana there is child labor and workers making nowhere close a living wage. Companies like Cadbury Brothers had the opportunity to be above the profit margin but they refused and continue to not engage that part of their history, or work to stop the current work force.

One can only hope that one of the “chocolate giants” will take a stand against the slave labor, and set a precedent that a profit is not more important than respect for a human’s life and rights.

Below are current examples of the continued practice of forced labor.


  • BBC Report on Child Labor in Ghana


  • Article by Antislavery.org

Work Cited Page

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

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99


William Cadbury – https://wa-cadbury.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/WACPortraitHS.png

Joseph Burtt – Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa.

The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food

Anywhere you go in the world, you can find people enjoying various brands of chocolate with a smile on their face. With chocolate being so widely consumed, nobody ever thinks about how a market was actually born from the universal enjoyment of chocolate. It originated in the Pre-Columbian times as a ritualistic treat for Mesoamericans. Chocolate was not as sweet back then, but they nonetheless added sweeteners to try to improve the taste. Nowadays, much more complex ingredients are used to obtain the sweet, rich, and creamy goodness that is chocolate. Chocolate can be found in grocery stores and homes all over the world; it’s so commonly seen that if you went to a check out line in any store and they weren’t selling chocolate bars, you might actually question the legitimacy of their business. For as long as many of us have been alive, chocolate has been bought and sold abroad but it wasn’t always so widely industrialized.

Chocolate first arrived in Spain in the early 16thcentury. It took some time to become widely accepted, as many Spaniards were initially skeptical of the foreign, bitter drink (Norton 2004). Eventually, acceptance of chocolate became widespread in Spain as the Spanish royal court began to develop a growing taste for it and certified it as an elite delicacy. From then on, all of Europe had a different respect and interest for chocolate.

Until 1828 when a technique was developed to separate cocoa butter from cacao solids, chocolate was something you could only drink. Casparus van Houten created the cocoa press method and his son, a Dutch Chemist by the name of Conraad Johannes van Houten, perfected it. In an attempt to make chocolate more soluble, Houten was able to effectively separate the cacao butter from cacao solids by adding alkaline salt. This would make it so that chocolate could be made in the home fairly easily and therefore would be more accessible to the common man. With the invention of the cocoa press method, chocolate became more than something you could just drink; people were for the first time able to eat it as a snack (Cox 1993). Chocolate as a solid bar caught the attention of the entire continent and eventually became more prevalent than its previously enjoyed liquid form. The chocolate that results from the cocoa press method is now referred to as Dutch-Process cocoa. Dutch-Process cocoa is one of the standard ingredients in most of the chocolate we consume today.

With the European chocolate industry growing rapidly throughout the 19th century, people continued to try to find new ways to optimize the taste of it and make it more marketable. In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate by blending milk with chocolate. Milk chocolate boomed in Europe, but the growing market for chocolate was increasingly more crowded. As more and more people got into the market and tried to develop better chocolate than their competitors, the quality of chocolate inevitably improved. With inventions like the conching machine in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the texture of chocolate became much smoother and was able to be made much faster, pushing further industrialization. In order to attack a new market that had never seen the type of chocolate they specialized in, Peter and Nestle brought their product to America and created Nestle’s Chocolate Company in 1905. From the invention of milk chocolate and the introduction of it to the American market sprung the industry we are most familiar with today. Major chocolate companies today would not be so profitable if it weren’t for Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle.

Since 1905, a few (and I do mean a few) other companies have also gotten in on the mega-market that the sale of chocolate has grown to produce. The top companies that make close to all of the brands of chocolate sold around the world are Nestle (who is till the biggest company), Cadbury, and Mars. These companies drive what has turned into an ever-growing market that we all are guilty of contributing to on a regular basis.

Chocolate has come a long way from the time when it was first consumed on Earth to the much more marketed chocolate we are familiar with today. It went from being a hand made commodity to being produced through a much more mechanized process and from being consumed in one particular part of the world to being consumed worldwide. Chocolate is and will always be a part of our lives, as our love for it seems that it will never fade. Hopefully this Food of the Gods, as it was once regarded (Presilla 2009), will be waiting for us in the afterlife.

Works Cited

Cox, Helen. 1993. “The Deterioration and Conservation of Chocolate from Museum Collections”. Studies in Conservation, vol. 38, no. 4.

Norton, Marcy. 2004. “Conquests of Chocolate”. OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

The Legacy of Oppression in Chocolate: The Power is in Our Hands

In the classic times of the Aztec and Mayans, cacao was a sacred and cultural food icon. Over the next centuries it would develop into a taste for the rich and noble in Europe and then be disseminated into the general population where a mass production of chocolate soon became necessary to meet the demands of the people. When the demands for chocolate rose it became normal for companies to abuse foreign labor to maintain the supply for chocolate and sugar. This has created a legacy of oppression that still exists to this day. Profit is the bottom line of any corporation and they will do whatever they can to keep their costs low, which is why such unethical practices have existed. Ultimately, the control of the corporations profit comes from the hands of the consumer.  Thus, the responsibility is on us as consumers to hold chocolate corporations accountable for their unethical practices if we want the industry to leave behind its legacy of oppression.

To meet the growing demands in Europe for chocolate, cacao plantations were set up across the world from the West Indies to Africa. Mesoamerican workers were used, but as they soon died to disease enslaved Africans soon became the principle labor force behind the cultivation of cacao (Martin, 2019). Cacao as a cash crop then became so profitable that it became one of the common commodities involved with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery became a foundation of the cultivation of cacao as the as the cost efficiency of forced labor made it a very enticing choice. As the abolitionist movement progressed slavery eventually became outlawed throughout the Western world, yet even when slavery became outlawed the profitability of oppression meant that those at the bottom to the food chain would continue to work in unfavorable conditions.

Cadbury was a company that prided itself on being one of the most popular names in chocolate and even today Cadbury continues to find popular commercial success. As this ad shows Cadbury had been doing so well that it became the chocolate of choice for Queen Victoria herself in the mid 1800s. However, their high quality cacao was derived from the Portuguese colony of Sao Tome & Principe, a place with troubling ethics for the cacao laborers. Despite slavery being outlawed in Portuguese colonies, the treatment for the African farmers was akin to slavery (Martin, 2019). When the initial reports of the work conditions first reached the ears of Cadbury, they did nothing to remedy the situation other then send one researcher Joseph Burtt who’s report would end up taking years. Meanwhile, independent journalist Henry Nevinson went to Sao Tome & Principe and had already been publishing information about the use of slaves on the island. It would take 8 years before Cadbury would change where they sourced their cacao from after William Cadbury went to visit the island to see the work conditions himself. There were certainly various factors, such as foreign relations with Portugal that played into why it took Cadbury before making the decision to boycott Sao Tome & Principe. What pushed William Cadbury to finally visit the island was mounting pressure from consumers and the public. Other chocolate companies attempted to distance themselves from the public ire by also boycotting cacao from Sao Tome & Principe. The Cadbury incident is a perfect example that the power to end inequality inflicted by corporations lies in the hands of the consumer.

While the Cadbury days where companies could get away with having chattel slavery in their supply chains have passed, today a new form of oppression has become the norm. Ghana and the Ivory Coast now account for 60% of cacao produced in the world (World Cocoa Foundation, 2018). In these countries oppression through the chocolate industry has become a capitalistic slavery where the people at the bottom of the chocolate supply chain have such unequal wages that they live in conditions close to or in poverty. Even after decades of farming cacao, some farmers have not even tried chocolate before. The video below shows how far removed these farmers are from our comfortable world of well-wrapped and boxed sweets.

The reason these laborers get paid so little is because corporations want to keep their costs low in the supply chain to keep up with global demand. Perhaps the cheapest sources of labor suppliers have turned to, to increase productivity rates are in child laborers. This issue began gaining awareness back in the mid 2010s, but since the initial outrage there has actually been an increase in child labor associated with the chocolate industry (Balch, 2018).

Video showing child labor in the chocolate industry by Fortune

From the Cadbury Company in the late 1800s to child slave laborers today it is clear that there has been an unfortunate legacy of inequality in the production of chocolate. This legacy exists because companies want to source from cheap labor to make the most profit possible while keeping up with high global demand companies. Ultimately, it is the workers at the bottom of the supply chain that are the most hurt. If there is any lesson to learn from the example of Cadbury incident it is that we the consumers have the power in our hands to improve the lives of these workers. The profit that these corporations care so much about is in our control and it is our responsibility to make a difference for the farmers and children who face unfair wages because of the products that we choose to buy.

Works Cited


Cadbury and Slavery in Sao Tome

In the 1870s, the Portuguese government abolished slavery in all of its colonies. Although slavery was abolished, there still was a very high demand for labor from plantation owners. To solve this problem, Portugal elected to introduce the concept of “contract labor” where “natives, of their own free will, could sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor at a set wage.” (Satre, 2). It was established that the government would be responsible for protecting workers and labor conditions.

In the early 1900s, about 30 years after Portugal had formally abolished slavery, British journalist Henry Nevinson went to Portuguese colonies in West Africa, where he couldn’t help but notice the obvious signs that indicated slavery was still prevalent. Nevinson described what he found, such as “human bones littering the sides of the trails,” and shackles used to restrain slaves hanging from trees so “they could be recovered by later trading parties.” (Satre, 1). Despite what the Portuguese government stated, Nevinson concluded that contract labor was no different than slavery.

Portait of Henry Nevinson

The discovery of the use of slavery had large implications for the chocolate industry due to the reliance on the production of cocoa in this region. William Cadbury, who was an owner of Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies in England, responded to Nevinson’s reports by sending an investigator, Joseph Burtt, to Sao Tome, one of the chocolate islands, to further look into the allegations of the use of slavery in chocolate production (Satre, 13). During this trip, Burtt concluded that slavery was still very much alive in the production of chocolate.

As shown above, Sao Tome is a small island of the western coast of Africa

Upon returning back to England confirming Nevinson’s findings, Burtt sent a report of his investigation results to Cadbury. These reports experienced a significant delay before being released to the public for multiple reasons. The release of the report had many implications. Not only would the report impact the chocolate industry, but it had potential diplomatic implications between the British and Portuguese governments. The findings in the report directly accused Portugal of failing to uphold their declaration of abolition. Knowing this, the England Foreign Office requested to Cadbury that parts of the report be edited to become more sensitive towards Portugal as not to upset them and create conflict (Higgs, 133). In addition to foreign policy concerns from the government, Cadbury had to delay the publication of the report in order to have the report accepted by other chocolate makers, such as Fry, Rowntree, and Cologne. The companies all had to negotiate the report, which proved to be very challenging and time consuming. The original report was written in December 1906, but the report did not become public until July 1907, and was much shorter as many descriptive passages were removed (Higgs, 136).

Cover of the report released displaying Burtt’s investigation findings

Despite the publication of the report, Cadbury still failed to stop its reliance on the production of cocoa in Sao Tome and other chocolate islands. There are multiple potential reasons for this lack of action. First of all, from a strictly business standpoint, production in Sao Tome was very good for Cadbury. The product was very high quality and was cheap, so it was very attractive. The concerns for Cadbury were ethical. Secondly, from Cadbury’s viewpoint, it did not make sense to simply leave these islands. By just leaving, Cadbury would not be doing anything to stop the slavery, as new competition would take advantage of the products. Not only would Cadbury be doing nothing to stop the slavery, but they also would be allowing competitors to take advantage and make them worse off as a company. By stopping utilizing Sao Tome, no one would be better off, and Cadbury would be worse off.

Upon lack of action by Cadbury, a British newspaper, The Standard, published an article heavily criticizing Cadbury for failing to act despite clear evidence. This upset William Cadbury, who in response successfully sued for libel (Martin, 65). In an effort to save face in the public eye, William Cadbury personally took a trip to the islands to investigate. Upon seeing for himself, Cadbury finally admitted the presence of slavery and the failure of Portugal to enforce abolition (Higgs, 148). Cadbury no longer purchased cocoa from Sao Tome or other chocolate islands using slavery.

While they did finally respond to everything that had happened, one might wonder why it ultimately took Cadbury four years to stop buying cocoa after the initial report came out from Nevinson. There are some explanations for this significant amount of time. In preparation to publicizing the report of Burtt’s investigation, there were many moving parts between Cadbury, the Foreign Office, and other chocolate makers. It was necessary to be careful in wording in order to not upset the Portuguese. Additionally, the distance between England and Sao Tome forced communication and investigating to be very lengthy, as it is not easy to travel between the two places. Ultimately, while it may have taken longer than necessary, Cadbury did eventually make the appropriate ethical decision regarding the role of slavery in their chocolate production in Sao Tome.

Works Cited:

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165

Martin, Carla D. 2019. Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.

Multimedia Sources Cited:

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Nevinson)

OnTheWorldMap (http://ontheworldmap.com/sao-tome-and-principe/sao-tome-and-principe-location-on-the-africa-map.html)

Archive (https://archive.org/details/labourinportugue00cadb)

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.

The Intertwined History of Chocolate and Slavery

Slavery has played a role in the European production of Chocolate since the inception of the industry. Although slavery and the acceptance of slavery has changed quite a bit since the Spanish first instituted the encomienda system to provide cheap labor for the production of chocolate, it still remains a major cost cutting measure that some chocolate farmers employ to produce cacao at market rates. In recent years some consumers have become increasingly concerned about the ethics of the food and products that they consume, which has opened the door more expensive fully vertically integrated chocolate producers that can guarantee that their products are ethically produced. These companies are generally small because their business model generally requires their chocolate to be more expensive than their bigger competitors. As consumers become more ethically conscious about what they consumer bigger companies could adopt this business model and still be able to compete in the market.

The first Europeans to make chocolate where the Spanish in their Central and South American colonies. Since the process of picking and processing the cacao was very labor intensive the Spaniards relied on several different forms of slave labor. Initially they the used Native Americans through the Encomienda system (Sampeck, 44). This was because the natives already had many of the skills required to harvest and process cacao and there were plenty of them living in the area. In the encomienda system the natives technically were not slaves, in the sense that the land owners did not own them, but the landowners were the only place that the natives could get living essentials and the only way to get those were to work the landowners land (Sampeck, 45). During this time slavery was generally accepted and the Europeans were also trying to convert the natives to Christianity, so they thought that they were doing them a favor.

The encomienda system fell out of favor quite soon though, because many of the natives were killed by disease and there were not enough of them to work the farms. The production remained in Central America at the time, but the labor shifted to enslaved Africans (Sampeck, 45). Since enslaved Africans were constantly being shipped in their numbers were not being decreased by European diseases or the high mortality rate while working on plantations. They also did not run away as much because they did not know the land as well as the natives did.

As Chocolate production became more globalized the amount of slaves used in its production increased. Between the years 1500 and 1900 between 10 and 15 million slaves were transported across the Atlantic to the Americas. 60% percent of the slaves went to the Caribbean where English colonies produced quite a bit of sugar, which is an important ingredient in chocolate. After the slaves arrived they were generally expected to survive only 8 (Sampeck, 47). In the beginning this system was very profitable and was moral tolerated. The fact that this system was profitable tells you that a single slave cost less than 8 years worth of wages, although such a number it completely ridiculous it is worth remembering that these slaves were made to work extremely long hours without much rest in between.

Rugendas, Johann Moritz. Punitions Publiques Sur La Place – Stª Anna. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Moritz_Rugendas_in_Brazil.jpg.

In the early 1800 the world began to slowly phase out and abolish slavery. At this time to keep chocolate production profitable producers moved production to places that had a similar climate to Central America, but had more cheap labor. The Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe became the biggest producer of cacao in the world during the early 1900 and this is where we can see a company struggling between competing in the Chocolate market and utilized slave labor to do it (Satre, 13). The labor used on this island was not the traditional slave labor that was common in American colonies, this labor instead was indentured servants with exploitative contracts. This was an important distinction because slavery was illegal in Portugal, but these workers were technically free and could return home as soon as their contracts expired. None of these workers ever chose to return home. A large plantation on the island even admitted to having a 25 percent child mortality rate (Satre, 11). The Cadbury company was a large chocolate company in England run by quakers, who supported many anti-slavery causes. This company bought 45% of its cacao from the island of Sao Tome and Principe. After the company heard about the possible use of slave labor in the production of their chocolate they send a person to investigate that claim (Satre, 13). After extensive investigation Cadbury eventually concluded that the working conditions at their chocolate supplier were unacceptable, but when they confronted the Portuguese they were told that they were free to buy their chocolate elsewhere. The problem with that is that Cadbury would have to pay more for the same product (Satre, 24). Although the company might have been able to afford this increase in costs Cadbury decided that the slavery in Sao Tome and Principe was not as bad as American slavery and certain farmers there promised to improve conditions. However as the social climate changed and the evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe mounted Cadbury eventually decided to boycott them (Higgs, 153). Although slavery was not generally accepted at the time people did not feel very strongly about exploitative labor practices.

Koppehel, Sebastian. Tony’s Chocolonely. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tony’s_Chocolonely_01.jpg.

In modern times consumers feel very strongly about slavery and exploitative labor practices, so companies cannot admit to knowing about slavery and keep buying from those same suppliers. However there are about 2 million children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa in the Cocoa industry. Many small craft companies such as Tony’s Chocolonely are controlling their entire supply chain to make sure that the chocolate is ethically produced (Appiah). This increases costs for the company, but in today’s woke culture people are willing to pay significantly more for products and are cruelty free and ethically sourced. Currently this is only profitable for small companies that are trying to make a statement, but as priorities change more larger companies might be able to take control of their supply chains and provide ethically sourced chocolate.

Fair Trade. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FairTrade-Logo.svg.

Slave labor has played a major role in the history of the chocolate industry. Without slaves chocolate would have been a much more expensive commodity and might not have risen to the same popularity that it enjoys today. As the culture changes more companies are trying to make ethical chocolate that does not require and coercive labor practices and slavery. At this point this is mainly done by small companies, but as this trend grown larger companies are starting to consider imposing stricter standards on their supply chains.

Works Cited

Appiah, Lidz-Ama. “Slave-Free Chocolate: Not-so-Guilty Pleasure.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 June 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/world/tonys-chocolonely-slavery-free-chocolate/index.html.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

A Sweet Taste that Inspired a Culture and the Bitter Suffering that Created It

From the Amazon basin to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to us. Chocolate as we know it today, however, is very different from what it used to be in the 16th century. Though we celebrate its sweet taste and how it positively affects our brains, not everything about chocolate is sweet, including its history:


It all started in Latin America

When Europeans arrived in the New World, they found a hundred or more cultigens – the most important beverage source being the cacao tree. The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, originated in South America, where the Olmec were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate was consumed during rituals and used as medicine. Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods.

Chocolate arrives in Spain

In 1528, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés introduced Cacao to Spain (Coe & Coe, 2013). After the addition of sugar, the drink quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Chocolate was even loved by Catholic monks who drank it to aid religious practices.

Due to its rising popularity, Spain set up cacao plantations in its West Indies colonies to meet demand. As cacao drinking began to spread across Europe in the late 17th century, French, English, and Dutch plantations were also established in the West Indies and South America. As with other colonial plantations in the New World, the production in these plantations used slaves from West Africa (Mintz, 1986).

When the cocoa press was invented in 1828 by J. van Houten, it enabled the extraction of cacao powder from cacao butter, thus the first chocolate bar was created in the mid-19th century (Coe & Coe, 2013). Those developments resulted in the affordability of chocolate for the mass market, which further increased the demand for cacao.

In Africa, it was only in the late 19th century that production began on any significant scale, with the first large scale production from Portuguese plantations on the island of São Tomé & Príncipe. Despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875, these plantations became notorious for using workers who were slaves in all but name.

Cacao and Colonialism

Back in the 15th century, when the Portuguese discovered the Azores, Madeiras, Cape Verde Islands, and São Tomé & Príncipe, they were all uninhabited. After discovery, the Portuguese soon began cultivating the islands for sugar; however, the sugar plantations required a large labor force. With the Portuguese population being too small to provide a large number of colonists, it was ultimately the slaves that filled that demand – and so began the African habitation of the islands.

Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to the two islands, mostly from Angola. It was the early 1900s, and Portuguese colonizers in the small country were reveling in the fact that they had turned the island into the world’s largest producer of cacao.

Angolan forced laborers working on cacao plantations on São Tomé & Príncipe (Rhodes House archive).

During the coffee boom of the 1850s the Portuguese began cultivating both crops intensely off the back of slave labor. Portuguese colonies abolished slavery in 1858, yet the laborers continued to be exploited. Many were “contracted” from the Portuguese colony of Angola where recruiters followed the old slave routes deep into the interior and the recruiting process was rumored to be forced (Nevinson, 1906). Workers were paid for their work on the islands, but wages were low and the death rates (as much as 20%) were high. Alcoholism was widespread as a result of soulless work, depression, and cheap imported Portuguese wine.

Laborers signed 5-year contracts, which were automatically renewed, and no workers ever returned to their homeland. In the early 1900s, the English challenged Portuguese policy implying that workers were not allowed to leave freely, making them slaves on the islands. Its suspicious labor practices had already made São Tomé & Príncipe one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao.

Cadbury Brothers began importing cacao beans from São Tomé and in 1901, William Cadbury heard that the island’s cacao was produced by slave labor, after coming across an advertisement for the sale of a São Tomé plantation. Included in the sale were the plantation laborers, indicating that the workers themselves were considered property. Cadburry joined with Frys, Rowntrees and the Stollwerck chocolate firm of Cologne, and together sent Dr. Joseph Burtt to investigate conditions on the islands and in Angola (Kiesow, 2017). Burtt reported that Angolan people were taken to the islands “against their will, and often under conditions of great cruelty”, and that it was almost unknown for them to return to their homeland (Higgs, 2013).

The dark and cruel reality of chocolate was, however, soon revealed to the rest of the world. In Harper’s Magazine, Nevinson (1906) described the São Tomé of 1904 as, “a hot-house climate of burning heat and torrents of rain.’ The type of conditions that, ‘kills men and makes the cocoa tree flourish.” Nevinson (2015) later said the death rates were highest among child slaves, with most dying within a few years because, “it was very difficult to convince them to live through the misery and homesickness” (Nevinson, 2015).

As Western consumers reacted with shock and disgust to those news, much of the production moved from São Tomé to the plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which did not make use of slave labor. As Ghana and the Ivory Coast had increased their cacao production to meet demand, many of the plantations were unable to sustain themselves and the once glorious plantations fell into disrepair across the islands.

Independence from Portugal finally came about in 1975, making São Tomé & Príncipe one of the last few African countries to throw off the shackles of colonial rule.


São Tomé & Príncipe remains one of the world’s poorest countries. However, despite the islands’ reputation for quality cacao, one would not find chocolate for sale at the local Mercado Municipal. To associate cacao purely with pleasure would do an injustice to the island’s history. If one were to savor a rich piece of chocolate while reflecting on the trials of slavery and those who once worked on cacao fields, chocolate would surely take on a bitter taste.

The good thing is that the island nation’s cacao industry has moved on from its dark history. Organic cacao farming, today, is a sustainable type of farming, both for farmer’s incomes and for the environment. The growing demand for organic cacao (cacao beans that are not treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides) has presented a whole new opportunity to São Tomé & Príncipe.

One interesting fact to note is that none of the primary crops grown by slaves, such as cacao, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, were necessary to sustain human life. Can we therefore argue, that slavery is a very early byproduct of a consumer culture that revolves around the purchase of goods that bring us pleasure but not sustenance?


Coe, S. & Coe, M. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.

Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, slavery, and colonialism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kiesow, S. (2017). Cocoa culture on São Tomé and Príncipe: The rise and fall of cocoa on the islands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural History, 91(1), 55-77.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Nevinson, H. (1906, February). The slave-trade of to-day. Conclusion. The islands of doom. Harper’s Magazine, Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/1906/02/the-slave-trade-of-to-day-conclusion-the-islands-of-doom/

Nevinson, H. (2015). A modern slavery – Scholar’s choice edition. Wolcott, NY: Scholar’s Choice.

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.

Perspectives in the Sao Tome Slavery Scandal

Ethical problems often have many stakeholders who have distinct priorities and therefore have different perceptions of potential consequences. This, combined with human impulse to justify one’s actions and paint oneself in the best light, means that even afterwards it is often difficult to understand who did what for which reasons. Untangling the problem of slave labor in cacao plantations on the Portuguese colonies of Sao Tome & Principe in the early 1900s is no exception, but it can help to break down the situation into key players and their motivations.

Cadbury Bros.: Working to be Ethical

As a family-owned Quaker chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury Bros. prioritized being an ethical company that treated its workers well as well as making money. Conveniently, having an ethical reputation helped sell more chocolate. George Cadbury owned newspapers that promoted Quaker beliefs, including social reform against sweatshops and an opposition to slavery in South African mines.

Cadbury’s British factory town, Bourneville, was praised as a model Garden Village that raised the living conditions of its employees. (image source: thechocolatedictionary.wordpress.com)

So when William Cadbury began hearing reports of slave labor on plantations in Sao Tome & Principe in 1901, which supplied nearly half of Cadbury’s cacao in 1900, he grew concerned about the implications for the firm ethically (were they inadvertently supporting slavery?) and logistically (how can a chocolate manufacturer function without cacao?). The only evidence at that time was a bill of sale listing the workers of a plantation along with the rest of the property and the potentially biased claims of the Anti-Slavery Society. This felt insufficient evidence on which to spark a boycott, so Cadbury and the other chocolate companies decided an investigation was in order (Satre).

There were many inexplicable delays in the investigation process, and the decision to boycott did not come until early 1909, 8 years after they originally heard rumors of slavery. The Standard claimed this meant that Cadbury had “not tried to do anything” about the issue; Cadbury sued them for libel. At best, William Cadbury was naively hopeful that the Portuguese planters’ claims of the 1903 reforms would come true, in no rush to prove that unethical behavior was occurring, and hoping that the Foreign Office or the press might resolve the issue for him. At worst, he truly felt that the slavery practiced on Sao Tome wasn’t as bad as the forced labor in mines that his family spoke out against and hypocritically stalled until an alternative was available. While the firm was probably waiting for the Gold Coast colonies to become a viable affordable source of cacao before they would risk divesting from Sao Tome cacao, the Cadbury family ultimately won the libel case by pointing to a paper trail of investigations and attempts to work with Portuguese authorities to resolve the issue (Higgs).

The first of those attempts came in 1903, when William Cadbury personally visited Lisbon to speak to plantation owners.

Portuguese Planters: Justifying Slavery

Portuguese planters took advantage of Cadbury’s visit to reassure him that conveniently timed reforms to the treatment of the workers (called servicais, never slaves) would fix any alleged problems. Although workers would still be transported from Angola to Sao Tome & Principe, the 1903 regulations required voluntary entry into the 5-year labor contracts and a minimum wage, part of which would be set aside as a repatriation fund to help workers return home once their 5-year contract ended. The planters wanted to make clear that they did not engage in slavery and in fact treated their workers ethically, showing off the accounts where they were keeping servicais’ repatriation money safe for them and continuing to maintain that they had done nothing wrong, that all the workers were there of their own free will (Satre). Even after the boycott, they published a counter-report showing off their good treatment of their workers, featuring photos of the hospitals and other facilities they provided to support their workers (Higgs).

A postcard featuring a plantation (roca in Portuguese) hospital, similar to the ones featured in the counter-report. (image source: akpool.co.uk)

Joseph Burtt: Friendly Investigator

Joseph Burtt, described before his trip as “the youngest man of 43 that could live” by Henry Nevinson, a journalist who also worked to expose the abysmal conditions in Sao Tome (image source: UC Berkeley botany collection)

Despite their hope that the Portuguese reforms would prove successful, Cadbury Bros. also decided to send an agent to Western Africa to follow-up and confirm that the unethical treatment of laborers had ceased. The agent they finally chose in 1905 was Joseph Burtt, a man described as “thoroughly nice… even quite sweet as the Americans may say”. Some observers were concerned that Burtt would be too nice, unable to push hard enough to get to the bottom of the situation, especially if the Sao Tome planters tried to deliberately mislead him. Despite their concerns, Burtt spent June 1905- April 1907 in Africa, and came back convinced “beyond all doubt … the negro labourers in the Cocoa plantations of Sao Thome and Principe are in the condition of practical slavery, and that the methods by which this negro labour is obtained from the mainland of Africa is cruel and villainous” (Satre).

While he was very open in saying this to the chocolate companies in 1907, he did bow to pressure from Cadbury the British Foreign Office to soften his report before its delayed release to the British public in late 1908. Despite yielding to allow the delay, as someone who had seen the situation firsthand, he advocated in various ways to resolve the issue, meeting with the planters in late 1907 and later touring the US to convince American companies to boycott as well (Higgs). His advocacy justified his selection, even as a “nice”, “sweet” man, to investigate the issue.

British Foreign Office: Classified

Portuguese cynics believe that the Burtt report’s publication was a smear campaign to convince chocolate manufacturers to buy cacao from the British Gold Coast colony instead of Portugal’s Sao Tome and Principe (Weinberg). Supporters of this theory claim it is corroborated by the timing of the report’s publication, which conveniently coincided with British-controlled Gold Coast plantations becoming viable alternative sources of cacao in late 1908. It is unclear if steering demand towards British-owned cacao plantations was a motivation of the secretive British Foreign Office.

Regardless of their economic motivation, the British Foreign Office was certainly interested in maintaining control over the situation. They were concerned that too much public outrage would antagonize the planters and Portuguese government, making it difficult to come to a diplomatic resolution (Satre).

The ethical issue of Sao Tome cacao production is interesting because all parties thought they were doing the right thing, or at least doing nothing wrong. Yet it could be argued that they could have done more in order to stop slavery sooner: Cadbury could have started a boycott sooner, Burtt could have pushed to publish sooner, the British Foreign Office could have pushed harder against Portugal politically, or the Portuguese planters could have acknowledged that they were in the wrong. According to lecture on 3/6/2019, slavery continued in Sao Tome until the late 1950s, so even though Cadbury, Burtt, and the British Foreign Office all likely thought they had done all they could, it’s possible they could have done more.


Image Sources