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  • Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business
  • Catherine Higgs
Lowell J. Satre . Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. xii +308 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $24.95. Paper.

Chocolate on Trial examines the libel case brought in 1908 by the English chocolatier Cadbury Brothers Limited against Standard News in response to allegations that the company was knowingly using slave-produced cocoa from the Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe in the manufacture of its chocolate. The firm sued and won, although the award was minimal. Cadbury did not deny that something akin to slavery was being practiced on the islands but successfully rebutted the accusation that it had not tried to do anything about it. Lowell J. Satre's meticulously researched book, which draws on the Cadbury Papers, the records of the Aborigines' Protection Society, official British sources, and a broad range of private papers, including those of the crusading journalists Henry W. Nevinson and E. D. Morel, documents what Cadbury Brothers tried to do.

The attempts of the company to influence labor practices in São Tomé and Príncipe have been well documented, though Satre's is the first full-length monograph devoted to the controversy. The Portuguese had outlawed the slave trade in 1836 and slavery in 1878, but many observers remained convinced that both institutions continued. Missionaries reported the forcible recruitment of labor from the interior of Angola; the contracted laborers sent to São Tomé never returned home. Concerned to defend their religious integrity as antislavery Quakers and also to protect the Cadbury brand, the firm's directors began by attempting to exert pressure quietly on the Portuguese through the official channels of the British Foreign Office. They had a degree of success when the Portuguese labor laws of 1902–3 established a repatriation fund. However, when Henry W. Nevinson traveled to Portuguese West Africa, wrote a series about labor practices that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1905–6, and demanded that European chocolate makers boycott slave-produced cocoa, Cadburys' attempts at quiet diplomacy were frustrated.

In Chocolate on Trial, Satre carefully notes the tension between the firm's antislavery position and its desire to acquire the finest quality cocoa. In doing so, he echoes an extensive literature in English addressing the case, including two accounts by Cadbury company historians, A. G. Gardiner's Life of George Cadbury (1923) and Iola A. Williams's The Firm of Cadbury 1831–1931 (1931); James Duffy's Portuguese Africa (1959) and A Question of Slavery (1967); and articles by William Gervase Clarence-Smith (Portuguese Studies 6 [1990]; Slavery and Abolition 14:1[1993]). All acknowledge the ambiguity of Cadbury Brothers' position while praising William A. Cadbury for his astute assessment of labor conditions in São Tomé and his attempts on behalf of the firm to improve them. [End Page 91]

Kevin Grant is less generous in the chapter he devotes to the Cadbury case in the recently published A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884–1926 (2005). In Grant's opinion, "an immediate boycott" of São Tomé's cocoa "would have had a detrimental effect on the [Cadbury] works at Bournville, prompting the company to lay off several hundred employees on a temporary basis" (133). William Cadbury's cautious protests were thus all about preserving the flow of cocoa. It is Grant who comes closest to accusing the firm—which ultimately chose to boycott São Toméan cocoa in favor of cocoa grown by African farmers in the Gold Coast—of hypocrisy. Satre cleaves to the older interpretation of Cadbury Brothers' actions, observing: "George Cadbury, patriarch of the family and the firm, remained convinced that the company took the correct path in pressing the Portuguese to transform their labor practices. He was inordinately proud of the leadership displayed by his nephew William Cadbury in this effort" (212).

Satre's focus is the British experience of the scandal. The Portuguese response is muted in his study, in part because of the limited number of contemporary sources available to him in English. Africans similarly play only...


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