Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Jones reviews Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business

Candy, Quakers, slavery and business ethics. They all come together in Lowell J. Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business (Ohio University Press, 2005), reviewed by Bernie D. Jones, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the most recent issue of the Law and History Review. Jones finds the book "fascinating" and "invaluable." She writes:

This study begins in the context of early twentieth-century chocolate production, with the harvesting of cocoa beans in Africa on the island of Sao Tome, where Portuguese estate owners used slave labor imported from Angola and ends in the quandary faced by the Quaker management of the Cadbury chocolate manufacturers, having built their enterprise on humane treatment of their British workers, only to be undermined by the reports coming out of Africa and publicized by anti-slavery reformers and newspaper editors. It was an embarrassment for a group long at the forefront of opposing slavery and which had been instrumental in bringing about its end within the British Empire. Sending their own emissaries to investigate and inveigh, they were caught in a bind of believing persuasion could work in halting the abuses, and keep their sources of supply at the same time, not realizing that their very cooperation with the evils of slavery made them complicit.

At the heart is a libel action brought by Cadbury to protect its name, corporate image, and profits as soon as its complicity was alleged in the open, once the Standard Newspaper Company published articles derived from eyewitness reports of the abuse. When all was said and done, Cadbury won their libel action, but the victory was a pyrrhic one that earned them only one quarter of a penny in damages. Whatever damage they sustained was minimal, in light of their gains.

Satre presents a masterful use of evidence, copious research, and a strong foundation in colonial African history, all providing great context for understanding the international political landscape that unfolded in the drama: the delicate maneuverings of diplomacy, policy as set by the Foreign Office, the official Portuguese response of denial and compliance with the duplicity of estate managers who maneuvered the very laws that were supposed to protect the Africans who contracted their labor, only to find themselves manipulated into slavery.

For the rest, click here.

Update: The relationship between chocolate and slavery is not confined to the past. IntLawGrrls brings the story to the present, with helpful links, here.