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Reading Lowell J. Satre's Chocolate on Trial

by Jim Jones (Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved)

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Lowell J. Satre's Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics & the Ethics of Business (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005) is an account of a 1908 libel lawsuit brought by the Cadbury chocolate company against The Standard newspaper of London. The libel charge developed out of a newspaper editorial that accused the Cadbury company from promoting a humanitarian image at the same time it relied on raw materials produced by slave labor on the West African islands of Sao Tome (St. Thomas) and Principe.

The author provides extensive background to the trial that includes a history of the Portuguese presence in West Africa, the slave trade and its abolition, and efforts by European progressives to improve living and working conditions in the 19th century.

As you read Chocolate on Trial, be aware of the following:

  1. Why was cocoa valuable and what steps were used to convert it into a product consumed by Europeans and Americans?
  2. What effect did new inventions of the 19th century have on the history of Angola, Sao Tome and Principe?
  3. What was the range of attitudes held by Europeans towards Africa at the end of the 19th century? Can you identify specific attitudes wih specific types or classes of people?
  4. Who was Henry Nevinson? Does he have any modern-day counterparts?
  5. What was the legal history of labor in Portuguese West Africa? Specifically, what laws, decrees and/or treaties influenced the working conditions of Angolan Africans?
  6. What practical problems reduced the effectiveness of Portuguese labor legislation?
  7. Did Africans resist? If not, then why not? If so, then how, and with what degree of success?
  8. How did the issue of "slavery" in the neighboring Congo Free State affect the issues addressed in this book?


The Standard editorial of September 26, 1908

Reprinted in Lowell J. Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics & the Ethics of Business (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005), 227-229.

"We learn with profound interest from Lisbon that Mr. Cadbury, the head of the famous firm of cocoa manufacturers, is about to go to Angola, where he will investigate for himself the manner in which labourers are "recruited" for the plantations of the islands which supply Messrs. Cadbury with the raw material of their justly celebrated products. Mr. Cadbury then proposes to go to Sao Thome itself to inquire into the allegation that "conditions of slavery" prevail in that profitable possession of our ancient allies the Portuguese. We congratulate Mr. Cadbury upon his journey, which does not come too soon. As a philanthropist and friend of humanity Mr. Cadbury's reputation stands as high as his renown for the sale of cocoa. In his model village and factories of Bournville the welfare of the workpeople is studied as closely as the quality of the goods manufactured. There are lecture-rooms and gymnasia, and no public-houses; the young ladies in the firm's employ visit the swimming bath weekly, and they have prayers every morning before beginning their honourable task of supplying the British public with wholesome food. But in this latter useful process they are not the only agents. The white hands of the Bournville chocolate makers are helped by other unseen hands some thousands of miles away, black and brown hands, toiling in plantations, or hauling loads through swamp and forest. In the plenitude of his solicitude for his fellow-creatures Mr. Cadbury might have been expected to take some interest in the owners of those same grimed African hands, whose toil also is so essential to the beneficent and lucrative operations of Bournville. His sympathies are wide and readily aroused, nor are they limited by race and colour, especially where the Government of his own country is concerned. He is understood to be largely interested in a newspaper which is the champion of the down-trodden coloured person groaning under the oppressions of British justice. To his alert conscience the thought of Chinese labour imported into South Africa was a loathing and an offence. What though the astute Celestial was under no compulsion to go, though he was only too delighted to have the chance of earning wages beyond his dreams, though the nicest precautions of the British and the Chinese Governments were taken to secure him against wrong or maltreatment, though it was proved indeed that he was better off than nearly all his countrymen and a good many of our own? All this was nothing. The hint, the suspicion, the remote possibility of slavery is enough to stir the anger of such a sensitive soul, and Mr. Cadbury's journal denounced the accursed thing without stint or measure.

Such being the case, we can only express our respectful surprise that Mr. Cadbury's voyage of discovery has been deferred so long. One might have supposed that Messrs. Cadbury would themselves have long ago ascertained the condition and circumstances of those labourers on the West Coast of Africa and the islands adjacent who provide them with raw material. That precaution does not seem to have been taken. It was left to others to throw light on those favoured portions of the earth's surface which enjoy the rule of Portugal in Africa. Other observers have anticipated Mr. Cadbury and have described the state of affairs in certain of these districts. In order to secure definite information the proprietors of an American magazine, nearly four years ago, commissioned Mr. H. W. Nevinson to investigate that part of Africa. No person could be better qualified. Mr. Nevinson has travelled widely, studied many lands and peoples, and brought to bear on all he has seen a penetrating observation and a trained judgment; he writes very brilliantly, but very moderately; and though he has strong political opinions his honesty can no more be questioned than his competence. His journey was undertaken four years ago; the record of its results appeared soon afterwards. It is a book of great power, transparent sincerity, and the most painful interest. No Englishman can read it without a certain sense of shame; for it shows that the negro slavery, which it is one of the glories of our history to have assailed so often, still flourishes in its wickedness and its cruelty in those Portuguese colonies. It is not called slavery; "contract labour" they name it now; but in most of its essentials it is that monstrous trade in human flesh and blood against which the Quaker and Radical ancestors of Mr. Cadbury thundered in the better days of England. At much personal risk to himself Mr. Nevinson visited the Angola towns, and explored the Hinterland of the interior. He saw many of the deeds and scenes which were the nightmare of a past generation; he tells us that men and women, boys and girls are still purchased from the chiefs, or kidnapped, or decoyed; they are still brought down in gangs, manacled and shackled, to the coast; they are still flogged; driven like cattle; and still, as in the past, they are left to die in the forest or slaughtered when their strength gives out on the march. He declares that the so-called contract is a farce; the stolen negro, brought before a Portuguese official hundred of miles from his home, is no more a free agent than his forefathers sent under the hatches of the Guinea slaver to America two hundred years ago. And once on the plantations he is a slave for life. He does not seem to be tortured, and he is not starved; but he has no freedom; he is herded into compounds (think of that, Mr. Cadbury; compounds!); he works from sunrise to sunset, year in, year out; the children born to him are the property of his owner; he is beaten if he does not work hard enough, and nearly whipped to death if he tries to escape. Portuguese law requires that he shall be "repatriated" (it is another term Mr. Cadbury should appreciate!) in five years; but he is never repatriated, for he either dies before the five years are out or is kept to his servitude till his death: about one of these free and independent labourers in every five dies in the first year. And the worst of all this slavery and slave-driving and slave-dealing is brought about by the necessity of providing a sufficient number of hands to grow and pick cocoa on the islands of Principe and Sao Thome, the islands which feed the mills and presses of Bournville! Such is the terrible indictment, made, as we have said, by a writer of high character and reputation on the evidence of his own eyesight. There is only one thing more amazing than his statements: and that is the strange tranquillity with which they were received by those virtuous people in England whom they intimately concerned."


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations (page ix)
List of Maps (page xi)
    1. Angola (page 3)
    2. Sao Tome (page 31)
    3. Africa in 1879 (page 36)
    4. Africa in 1914 (page 37)
1. Henry W. Nevinson and Modern Slavery (page 1)
2. The Firm of Cadbury and the World of Slave Labor (page 13)
3. Portugal and West Africa (page 33)
4. Evidence Amassed (page 53)
5. Joseph Burtt's Report (page 73)
6. Careful Steps and Concern -- or Dragging Feet and Hypocrisy? (page 100)
7. Defending Reputations (page 124)
8. Cadbury Bros., Ltd. v. The Standard Newspaper, Ltd. (page 149)
9. The Verdict (page 175)
10. Humanitarians, the Foreign Office, and Portugal, 1910- 1914 (page 183)
11. The Aftermath (page 208)
Acknowledgements (page 223)
Appendix (page 227)
List of Abbreviations (page 231)
Notes (page 233)
Bibliography (page 277)
Index (page 299)


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