Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

Photo: Aloha Feels Chocolate.
Many boutique candy companies are determined to do more than the giants about child labor. “There are over 27 million slaves in the world today. Of them, over 9 million are children,” says slavefreechocolate.org.

I’m sure you know I’m not going to focus on the dark side of anything, so as we dig out from Halloween chocolate created by name brands that have failed to end child labor, let’s start by mentioning companies that are more careful about sourcing.

I, too, buy the mini Trick-or-Treat bars available in the supermarket. But I also have a friend who loves getting chocolate on her birthday, and that is when I really focus on ethical brands. There’s a long list here. Taza is one I know. It’s headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts.

The problem with chocolate seems to be that even companies seeking Fair Trade labels are often bamboozled by chocolate growers or aggregators on the ground. No doubt, it’s hard to get to the bottom of things unless you work directly with a grower.

In a February article from the Guardian, we learn that several young men who were once child slaves in Africa were hoping for a hearing in US courts. After all, big companies like Cargill, Mars, and Hershey are based here.

Oliver Balch writes, “Eight children who claim they were used as slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast have launched legal action against the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They accuse the corporations of aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of ‘thousands’ of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains.

“Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey and Mondelēz have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by the human rights firm International Rights Advocates (IRA), on behalf of eight former child slaves who say they were forced to work without pay on cocoa plantations in the west African country.

“The plaintiffs, all of whom are originally from Mali and are now young adults, are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“It is the first time that a class action of this kind has been filed against the cocoa industry in a US court. Citing research by the US state department, the International Labour Organization and Unicef, among others, the court documents allege that the plaintiffs’ experience of child slavery is mirrored by that of thousands of other minors.

“Ivory Coast produces about 45% of the global supply of cocoa, a core ingredient in chocolate. The production of cocoa in west Africa has long been linked to human rights abuses, structural poverty, low pay and child labour.

“A central allegation of the lawsuit is that the defendants, despite not owning the cocoa farms in question, ‘knowingly profited’ from the illegal work of children. According to the submissions, the defendants’ contracted suppliers were able to provide lower prices than if they had employed adult workers with proper protective equipment.

“The lawsuit also accuses the companies – whose industry body is the World Cocoa Foundation – of actively misleading the public in the voluntary 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol, characterized by the complainants as promising to phase out some child labour (‘the worst forms,’ in the protocol’s words). …

“In the legal claim, all eight plaintiffs describe being recruited in Mali through trickery and deception, before being trafficked across the border to cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. There, they were forced to work – often for several years or more – with no pay, no travel documents and no clear idea of where they were or how to get back to their families.” More at the Guardian, here.

Alas, at the Washington Post, here, you can read that the former child slaves were not granted standing by the courts, although the plaintiffs sued confidently “under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that allows federal district courts to hear ‘any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.’ ”

Robert Barnes and Peter Whoriskey reported in June, “The Supreme Court on Thursday said U.S. chocolate companies cannot be sued for child slavery on the African farms from which they buy most of their cocoa. But the court stopped short of saying such a lawsuit could never go forward.

“The court’s splintered decision was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented from the decision, saying it was premature to dismiss the suit.”

Alito, for goodness sake! This is why I don’t like blanket assumptions about what Supreme Court justices are thinking. You can say what position they are likely to take, but you can’t really know. And besides, it’s too depressing to assume you know.

Anyway, we’re back to Square One with chocolate and child labor.

Except that informed consumers can do their part: start asking themselves the right questions and paying a few more cents to be sure no children are harmed. After all, more chocolate-buying holidays are fast approaching.

Photo: jbdodane/Alamy
A sign warns against child labor in cocoa production in Ghana.

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Photo: Glasshouse Vintage/Getty.
Although Jane Austen’s family had ties to an Antigua property that used slaves, new research hints that the 19th century novelist may have held abolitionist views like her favorite brother.

Just when you think there’s nothing new to be learned about the life of a famous author, someone decides to try a different kind of search. In today’s article, a scholar who already knew quite a bit about Jane Austen’s brother Henry searched for “the Rev H.T. Austen,” the name he used after her death.

Scottie Andrew writes at CNN, “Austen’s personal values — namely, whether she supported slavery — have been debated by literary enthusiasts and experts who read her work like a cipher. A new discovery adds a new wrinkle to the Pride and Prejudice author’s personal lore: Her dear brother Henry was sent as a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840.

“While it’s common knowledge among ‘Janeites’ — the nickname for Austen’s proudest and most passionate readers — that the author’s brothers privately held abolitionist views, Henry is the first of her six brothers to ‘have participated publicly in anti-slavery activism,’ said Devoney Looser, a preeminent Austen scholar and professor at Arizona State University, who uncovered the record of Henry’s attendance.

“It’s further evidence, she said, that Austen herself might have believed in the abolition of slavery. Looser shared her findings in the Times Literary Supplement, a UK literary review. However, the discovery does not apply to the entire Austen family’s views, Looser says. Austen’s father had ties to a family that ran an Antiguan sugar plantation, and Austen herself never publicly expressed abolitionist views, as far as researchers know. …

‘We’ve wanted to slot her family, and her, as one or the other,’ Looser told CNN of the debate over the Austen family’s attitudes toward and participation in slavery. ‘The uncomfortable truth that my research confirms is that, over the course of 80 years, her family was both.’ …

“Just 161 of her letters exist today, Looser said, but one of them mentions her love of the work of Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist author. …

“Based on her findings, which Looser said she uncovered in digitized newspapers and church records, Henry was selected as one of two delegates from his town. Looser said it indicates that ‘he would have been a known supporter of, and even a local leader, in favor of abolition.’ The point of the convention, attended by 500 leaders in abolition, was to create a platform for anti-slavery measures around the world and support formerly enslaved Black people who’d been recently freed in the British colonies, Looser said.

“As a delegate, Henry would have debated anti-slavery policies with his peers, most of whom were White men (a handful of Black men served as delegates, and the eight women present weren’t allowed to sit with the men, Looser said). His broader history of activism remains unknown, as none of his letters seem to have survived, but Looser said he was a pastor known for being an ‘excellent public speaker.’

“Henry’s attendance is the first example of public support for abolition among the family, Looser said, and contrasts with his father’s ties to slavery. The Rev. George Austen was close to a man whose family ran a sugar plantation in Antigua and was named a co-trustee for the man’s fortune, Looser said. While her research does not support claims that the senior Austen was directly involved in managing the plantation, he did have a hand in managing the wealth of a man who owed his fortune to enslaved people.

“Though Austen’s work is central to the Western literary canon, for much of the 20th century, experts believed her novels were devoid of politics and nods to controversial subject matter like race and slavery, said Nicole Wright, an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an expert in themes of social justice in British literature from Austen’s era. But Austen’s novels aren’t just about fancy balls and complicated courtships.

“More recent scholarship suggests that her novels made subtle references to the evils of slavery. Take the ‘silence’ that inspired many an academic work: A moment in Mansfield Park when heroine Fanny Price questions her uncle about the slave trade and is met with ‘dead silence.’ For many years, that moment was viewed by some critics as complicity. Some Austen scholars today think it might have been a criticism of English society’s discomfort in discussing slavery, Wright said.” More at CNN, here.

You might also be interested in an April New York Times article that reports, “As part of the discussion over racism that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, museums have asserted solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and begun to rethink and recast how they portray history. Among them is a museum dedicated to the writer Jane Austen in the English village of Chawton.”

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Photo: Hunter McRae for the New York Times
The slave quarters at the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, S.C. House tours in the South have stopped glossing over slavery.

Having just finished reading the painful Pulitzer-Prize-winning book by Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, I found this article about southern house tours encouraging. At least people have stopped glossing over slavery and pretending people “owned” by other people had jolly lives.

Tariro Mzezewa writes at the New York Times, “A few years ago, people touring the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters in Savannah, Ga., would have heard a lot about George Owens, the lawyer, farmer and Congressional representative who lived in the massive neoclassical home in 1833. And about banker and slave trader Richard Richardson, for whom the house was built in 1816. They might have heard Emma Katin’s name, but not about how the enslaved black woman spent most of her nights sleeping on the wooden floors of the house, so that she could be available at all hours to the infants in the Owens family.

“They wouldn’t have heard about the 14 other enslaved people who lived there. And there’s a good chance that guests would not have heard about the 400 other slaves the Owenses had on their other nearby properties.

“ ‘Those pieces of the story would have been missing because she would have been treated as an accessory to the Owens’ lives,’ said Shannon Browning-Mullis, a curator of history and decorative arts for Telfair Museums, which owns the house and has been in charge of rethinking the way its history is told.

“In cities including Savannah and Charleston, S.C., where Confederate statues, elegant mansions and plantation weddings are common, tourism has often taken the form of nostalgia for the antebellum South, Southern charm and Southern hospitality. For years, tours of historic homes would focus on their architecture and fine furniture, but not on how the wealth so clearly displayed depended on enslaved labor.

“There is a growing consensus among the interpreters who guide people through historic properties that by excluding stories of the enslaved, institutions like historical societies, museums and tour companies have sent the message that power and wealth were not directly connected to slavery, and racism, and erased the stories of the black people who built these cities.

“Now that’s changing.

“ ‘When we come to see historic houses, often we are coming to see what it looked like to live in the past and a lot of us are sometimes just coming to see a pretty house,’ said Lacey Wilson, a historic interpreter for Telfair Museums, to a group of tourists on a recent tour. ‘What we’re looking at is the political power of the people who lived here. All the beautiful decorative objects throughout the house — the money coming for all these things came primarily from the enslaving of other human beings.’ …

“When Lauren Northup, director of museums for the Historic Charleston Foundation, leads a tour or when visitors listen to the self-guided audio tour of the house, they hear how the enslaved people in the house and the white family would have interacted in almost every room. The differences between the spaces where the white family lived and socialized compared to where the enslaved toiled are stark. Tourists also hear, again and again, about how every aspect of the house, which was built by a wealthy merchant, was designed to let the owners see and control the enslaved.

“Most guests at the Nathaniel Russel House remark on the beauty of the mansion and its décor, Ms. Northup said, adding that she reminds them that the house was built with the purpose of ‘keeping people in, keeping people from seeing each other, from socializing, from talking,’ she said. ‘It was a prison. That is what I’m trying to make people understand — you are in a beautiful prison.’

“Ms. Northup said that her organization has been actively working to change its storytelling since the mid-1990s. But in 2017, when she, with the help of art conservator Susan Buck, discovered that much of the original fabric of the slave quarters were intact, with artifacts, there was an urgency to study, preserve and open the space to the public.

“They were also galvanized by the 2015 killing of eight black parishioners and their pastor at Emanuel AME church, by Dylann Roof, a man who professed white supremacy. …

“After the Emanuel shooting, ‘things changed in Charleston,’ Ms. Northup said. ‘That was such a watershed time for Charleston because of Emanuel. The community fundamentally and irrevocably changed.’

“Increasingly, the people going on house tours are looking for more history and are trying to satisfy ‘a hunger’ for history and truth, Ms. Browning-Mullis in Savannah and Ms. Northup in Charleston said.”

More here.

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Photo: Mark Brodkin Photography/ Getty Images
After archaeologists found steps and postholes on either side of a ramp, they concluded the pyramid builders were able to haul from both directions, shortening the time to complete construction.

What were you taught in school about how the pyramids in Egypt were constructed? The story has always been partly guesswork, like the story of Stonehenge and the giant statues on Easter Island, narratives that change as new bits of data are uncovered.

Kevin Rawlinson writes at the Guardian, “The mystery of how, exactly, the pyramids were built may have come a step closer to being unravelled after a team of archaeologists made a chance discovery in an ancient Egyptian quarry.

“Scientists researching ancient inscriptions happened upon a ramp with stairways and a series of what they believe to be postholes, which suggest that the job of hauling into place the huge blocks of stone used to build the monuments may have been completed more quickly than previously thought.

“While the theory that the ancient Egyptians used ramps to move the stones has already been put forward, the structure found by the Anglo-French team, which dated from about the period that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, is significantly steeper than was previously supposed possible.

“They believe the inclusion of the steps and the postholes either side of a rampway suggests the builders were able to haul from both directions, rather than simply dragging a block behind them. The team believes those below the block would have used the posts to create a pulley system while those above it pulled simultaneously. …

“Dr Roland Enmarch, a senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool and the co-director of the project that made the discovery, the Hatnub Survey, … told the Guardian that … the alabaster quarry itself, as well as the inscriptions they were there to study, had been known to Egyptologists for a long time, having first been found by Howard Carter – the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

“His team’s original focus was not on the ramp leading down into the quarry, but on properly documenting the inscriptions found there. But their attention was soon drawn to the former’s construction – and what it could tell them about how pyramids were built.

“They said the inscriptions allowed them to date the ramp to around the time of the Pharoah Khufu, or Cheops, who built the Great Pyramid.” More here.

It’s amazing how archaeologists keep deepening our knowledge of the past. At the same time, the use of slave labor in building these monuments remains almost too painful to think about. And it reminds me that although slavery is no longer accepted as normal, we still face huge challenges to obliterate it.

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I probably wouldn’t have known that Frederick Douglass spent time in Ireland if I hadn’t read the Colum McCann novel TransAtlantic. McCann likes to take historical events of different time periods and imagine the parts we can’t really know. In TransAtlantic, he wove together a historic 1919 flight from Canada to Ireland, the Douglass lecture tour of Ireland and his horrified witness to the famine there, a servant girl’s emigration to the United States and her role in the Civil War, and the rather thrilling negotiations to bring resolution to the Troubles between Protestants in Northern Ireland and Catholics.

According to an initiative called the Douglass/O’Connell Project, “Douglass was greeted in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork by enthusiastic crowds and formed many friendships on his trip, most significantly with Daniel O’Connell, a figure still revered in Ireland today for his role in Catholic emancipation and his fierce opposition to slavery. O’Connell and Douglass shared the stage just once, in September 1845 at a rally in Dublin, but retained a mutual respect and affection until O’Connell’s death less than two years later — and Douglass acknowledged O’Connell’s influence on his philosophy and worldview for the rest of his life.

“The Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell Project is a living legacy to the leadership of these two men and the causes they championed by strengthening the bonds of friendship between Ireland and the United States, encouraging greater understanding between the diasporas of Africa and Ireland in America, and fighting injustice and human rights abuses throughout the world.”

Which brings me to how I happened to be able to take a photo of the Irish statue of Douglass today. The Center for Race Amity in Boston is partnering with the Douglass/O’Connell Project on a celebration this weekend, before the statue goes on tour. Isn’t it magnificent? Andrew Edwards is the sculptor.

There will be a preview of the public television film Douglass and O’Connell Saturday at the Museum of African American History at 7 pm, followed by a lecture by Don Mullen, the author of Bloody Sunday. On Sunday there will be festivities in the Greenway from 1 pm to 5 pm.

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