It's no secret that I have a 'sweet tooth'. And now that I, like many others, am responding to parish bulletin requests for jams and jellies for the Christmas Fair, I have sugar on my mind. This year, however, my mind is troubled when I think about how sugar came to my kitchen.
In March, 2007, Britons will be celebrating the bicentenary of the passing of legislation abolishing slave-trading on March 25, 1807. This came at the end of twenty years of organization, initiated by Anglican clergyman, Thomas Clarkson, with the help of Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends), thousands of petition signatures, a consumer boycott of sugar (before the word 'boycott' existed), a best-selling book by a freed slave, and many Standing Room Only meetings around the country.
|"Am I not a man and a brother?"-a 19th Century anti-slavery button.|
William Wilberforce, an Anglican Member of the British Parliament, eventually persuaded his fellow MPs (many of them slave-owners) to pass legislation abolishing slave-trading. Membership in the Church of England was a requirement for anyone serving in Parliament, and the C of E was a major slave-owner, so the abolition of slave-trading by the world's biggest slave-trading nation represented a monumental change for the Anglican Church as well as the country.
Another twenty years passed before slavery itself was abolished in
And yet, slavery continues today, despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practised. Contemporary slavery (estimated at. 20 million people) takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race. Women from eastern Europe are bonded into prostitution, children are trafficked between West African countries, men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates, indentured farm workers can never earn enough to buy their freedom. And slavery continues in the sugar cane plantations.
Sugar was at the root of 18th and 19th century slavery, so it seems to me appropriate-in the run-up to the bicentennial celebrations-to draw attention to the slave conditions that continue in sugar plantations to this day.
Here are some of the facts that I have learned about Florida Crystals'-owned plantations in the
The sugar cane workers are predominantly from
They earn $2 per 12-hour day for cutting one ton of cane a day;
They and their families are required to live in housing that is provided by the company;
They are compelled to shop in the company store.
Workers are not allowed to grow their own vegetables to supplement what food they can afford to buy at the company store. Past efforts to do so resulted in company employees pulling up the plants.
The men can afford to eat only one meal a day.
There are no handcuffs, thumbscrews or leg shackles as existed in the 1700s, but it is slavery nonetheless. This article is one personal response to what I've learned. And when I've finished making jam for the craft fair, I plan to cut out sugar from my life-a personal sugar boycott, if you will. I invite others to join me.
Sources for this article included Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild (2005); "Big Sugar," a CBC documentary (2006) www.cbc.ca/documentaries/bigsugar; and the website of Churches Together in England, a group of 26 Churches and Church Councils which includes the Church of England, www.setallfree.net