What’s your favourite chocolate treat? A chunky KitKat or a slab of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk? Or maybe you prefer a Mars bar? The British are prodigious chocolate eaters – ‘The European Confectionery Market to 2007’ report shows that Britain consumes an average of over 24lbs (11.2kg) per person per year – more than any other European country. But behind the melting, rich sweetness of chocolate a tale of grinding poverty and bitterness lurks.
The story of how many of the beans that make the chocolate we eat are harvested is disturbing and demands to be told. Although the big chocolate manufacturers have made some efforts in recent years to improve the situation, adults, young people and in some cases children, are suffering inhumane living conditions and appalling wages to harvest the cocoa bean. The chocolate bar you eat may be tainted. And it’s not just chocolate. The price you and I pay in UK stores for a wide range of goods such as rugs, jeans, coffee, trainers, clothing, pineapples, flowers, leather footballs and chocolate is linked to the lives of many millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America, many of whom are receiving totally inadequate reward for their labour.
Some young people have been forced to work harvesting cocoa beans in West Africa - tricked into work for starvation wages. Agricultural workers are enslaved into bonded labour – their labour demanded as a means to repay huge interest payments on a small loan. Forced to work seven days a week for little or no wages – the spiralling interest rates mean they may be enslaved for their whole life and then their children after them. Running away, if it is an option, risks a severe beating or worse.
As we approach the 200th anniversary next year of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, around 12m men, women and children are in various forms of slavery. This includes women tricked or kidnapped into the sex trade, children trafficked between countries to work as domestic slaves, and men forced to work on agricultural estates. Modern slavery takes many forms. What is more, British companies, individuals and communities are enriching themselves through this trade, which enslaves individuals and communities around the world.
In the face of this clear injustice some wring their hands, shake their heads and suggest little can be done because of the scale and complexity of the problem. However, others point to the strategies of the abolitionists from 200 - plus years ago - people like Olaudah Equiano, William Wilberforce and Elizabeth Heyrick. They say we can learn from these heroes and heroines of the past and with God’s help and the goodwill of many, undo injustice and set the captive free.
Here are four successful strategies used by abolitionists in the past that you and I can adopt, update and use to effect change and justice.
1. Use your buying power
Elizabeth Heyrick championed the cause of the abolition of the slave trade. She sympathised with slave insurrections and campaigned for a boycott on sugar and shops which sold slave-produced goods. Two hundred years ago sugar was the equivalent of oil today – our ancestors consumed it in huge quantities and it was central to the British economy. Heyrick championed a boycott of sugar imported from slave plantations. Her campaigning worked, people’s consciences had already been pricked and many were happy to go without sugar in their tea in order to demonstrate their opposition to slavery. The anti-sugar boycott won the support of 300,000 people and made a big dent in sugar sales.
Today the UK’s best-known antislavery campaigner is William Wilberforce; however he regarded Heyrick as too radical. Elizabeth, a Quaker, ignored his efforts to suppress her influence. She inspired the launch of 70 women’s anti-slavery societies throughout the UK who contributed crucial funds into the abolitionists’ cause.
Going without a favourite treat or choosing to buy an alternative product made without enslaving people is a strategy that worked then and can work today. A wide range of foods and products are available under fair-trade brands. As well as giving the buyer a clear conscience – it puts pressure on the big brands to adopt better practices instead of exploiting enslaved labour.
Disturbing reports of forms of enslavement, including forced labour, have focused attention on Ivory Coast. This West African nation is the biggest source of cocoa in the world. ‘Divine’ – a major fair-trade brand source their chocolate from neighbouring Ghana where growers from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative get a guaranteed price for their beans. Look out for Divine and other brands - most supermarkets sell fair-trade chocolate. Following the example of Elizabeth Heyrick we can shop with a conscience by choosing products with the official fair-trade brand, knowing the producers get a fair price and workers benefit from guaranteed minimum health and safety conditions. Meanwhile fair-trade producers also work to ensure the environment is not exploited and education and training opportuntities, especially for women and children, are fostered. Suddenly your favourite bar of chocolate is a whole lot less appealing!
2. Get the word out
The Abolitionists were desperate to make the British public aware of the evil of slavery. They created many of the campaigning methods that are still widely used today. One of the most potent methods they used were pamphlets and books which gave eyewitness testimonies of the scale of the suffering. Possibly the most riveting read was entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the African. Olaudah Equiano says he was kidnapped aged about 11 along with his sister from Guinea.
His life story became immensely popular at the height of the anti-slavery campaign when Equiano was in his early 40s. The book described the horrendous journey across the Atlantic, being sold to a British naval officer, becoming a sailor, and learning to read and write in London between naval actions. Equiano, who converted to Christianity, experienced much cruelty and injustice.
Having fought for the British he was cheated of prize money and his freedom, being sold to another seacaptain. After more adventures he eventually managed to buy his own freedom and travelled throughout England promoting his book and the anti-slavery message. A contemporary newspaper described him as being ‘well known as the champion and advocate for procuring a suppression of the slave trade’.
John Newton who wrote the great hymn Amazing Grace, was another who wrote his life story. Newton described in a pamphlet his own involvement as a slave trader and his subsequent change of heart on conversion to Christianity. Entitled ‘Thoughts Upon The African Slave Trade’ it sold out immediately and helped change public opinion.
Another effective anti-slavery strategy was a poster which included a drawing illustrating the design of a slave ship. This graphically showed how crammed and inhumane the conditions were. First published in1789 this became an iconic image which was widely reproduced.
Books and posters continue to be potent weapons to inform and challenge people about modern-day forms of enslavement. Groups such as Anti Slavery International produce books and reports detailing interviews, research and strategies on how to tackle contemporary forms of slavery. They give a voice to people like Mende Nazer who was abducted in Sudan and forced to become a domestic slave in the capital Khartoum and later in London. Many people were moved by her story ‘Slave’ when it was published. Some were then motivated to form campaign groups. As we get the word out, people are informed and lobby their elected representatives. Like the abolitionists of 200 years ago, we need to tirelessly petition, lobby and convince those in power and influence. Photographs, TV documentaries, and websites (methods unavailable then) are all part of the ongoing campaign to set slaves free and right injustices.
3. Mementoes to promote the cause
The Make Poverty History campaign successfully distributed millions of white wrist bands to help keep this cause in the public eye as a visual reminder to keep praying, working and campaigning for change. Abolitionists from two and three hundred years ago used similar strategies to keep an issue in the public gaze.
Commemorative medals were stuck with the campaigning slogan ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ with a man in chains holding up his arms in supplication. This became the anti-slavery movement’s logo and was used on their publications. The logo was the brain child of Josiah Wedgwood, known as the father of English potters and celebrated worldwide for his fine china was a supporter of the abolitionist cause. He created a range of china objects with the ‘Am I not a man…’ logo affixed to help promote the message and raise funds for the ablition campaign. It also appeared on snuff boxes, cufflinks, bracelets, hairpins and banners.
These various momentoes all kept the abolitionist’s message visible and provoked conversations over meal tables, in shops and at the workplace. Look out for specific anti-slavery motifs in the run up to 2007 - the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British parliament.
4. Prayer power
Many of the abolitionists of the past were motivated by their Christian faith to bring an end to the slave trade. Prayer meetings were organised and prayer was a regular feature at protest meetings. The diaries of many of the campaigners recorded their prayers and entreaties to God for his help to continue in what often seemed an impossible struggle.
Within a generation of arriving in North America – many enslaved Africans converted to Christianity. Usually segregated from white believers – these churches were often characterised by earnest and fervent prayer meetings and by their soulful harmonious singing. Many of the prayers and the hymns reflected their suffering and longing for relief.
The roots of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement can be traced directly back to a church of black people in Los Angeles. Exactly 100 years ago, under the leadership of William J Seymour, the son of former slaves, the church met in a shabby former grain store, having outgrown a residential house, when they experienced an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Known ever since as the Azusa Street Revival, this and the Welsh revival a few years earlier, resulted in the birth of the Pentecostal movement, which continues to make a vibrant impact on the worldwide church.??Prayer changes things. Today almost 200 years since the slave trade was supposedly abolished we need to pray for those who are enslaved today. Next month we continue this series of articles by revealing more stories of modern day slavery. Meantime – checkout the websites listed – some of which include a range of prayer resources to help inform and guide your prayers. Abolishing the slave trade in Britain seemed a virtually impossible task at times – but through hard work including persistent prayer, hearts and minds, laws and trade practices were changed. What happened then can happen now.