Unsweetened by the Slave Trade
From Kool-Aid to Fruit Loops to Dr. Pepper to Jimmy Dean’s “Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick,” we hungry Westerners have one thing in common – and no, it’s not just the resulting diabetes: we like things sweet.
And we also love slavery – or at least that is what our commerce seems to suggest.
The Western tea trade began in the early 1600’s, but it was not until later in the century that sweetened tea became popular, particularly in Europe. By 1750, tea was Great Britain’s national drink, and every cup came with lumps of sugar.
The increased demand for sugar consequently increased demand for slave labor to farm that sugar. British and French ships forcibly removed Africans from their homelands to the Caribbean sugar colonies. There little girls would begin working in the fields at age four.
Amidst extreme oppression, these young children would harvest sugarcane to be sent on ships to spoiled rich kids in London. And today, young children do the same thing to provide our children with chocolate.
British tea-lovers put sugar in their tea, not because they liked to see children suffer, but because they liked the taste of sweet tea. We put chocolate in our desserts, not because we want to see West Africa’s boys beaten and held against their wills, but because it is delicious.
And yet, somehow, it is easy for us to judge the slave-supporting tea drinkers of our ancestry and assume our decisions would be better, more humane, if it were us.
And today, it is us.
Our products support the new slave-trade – the 27 million people held against their wills around the world. But we refuse to look into what products are contaminated with the blood of slaves, because distance grants us the luxury of ignorance.
It is nearly impossible to discriminate against all slave-made products – chocolate, sports equipment, sneakers, even baby clothes are often produced by unscrupulous companies that will not disclose whether or not they use slave labor. And so we grow in apathy even as we close our eyes tighter.
But English abolitionists began their work with the simple act of drinking their tea without sugar, or abstaining from tea altogether. And Britain did not have the option we do of turning to slave-free alternatives. Why not start today by boycotting all slave-made chocolate? In our case, alternatives abound, so sweet-toothed people don’t have to go without cake.
We can learn a lot today from the tea trade of centuries ago and its resulting evils on sugarcane plantations. Instead of making the same choices, we can demand better for ourselves and for the millions of people across the globe who are bound to the fields against their wills.
The choice is ours: give up the Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake and Sausage on a Stick, or contribute to the slave trade of innocent men, women and children. God help us if we choose the latter.