Global Citizens - Make an Impact!

From Slave Trade to Fair Trade - 18th Century Global Citizens

Sugar: the product of slavery

The main 'product of slavery' in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was sugar. Sugar was cultivated by slaves who, after enduring the gruelling 'middle passage' on slave ships across the Atlantic, worked in appalling conditions on huge sugar plantations in the West Indies.


The Sugar Boycott

In 1791, thousands of pamphlets were printed by the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (also known as the 'Abolitionists') encouraging the public to boycott sugar produced by slaves. To give up sugar was no small sacrifice at the time. Sweet cakes and biscuits were extremely popular amongst the upper classes and tea with sugar was highly fashionable. 

On average each family consumed five pounds (2kg) of sugar a week. Sugar was Britainís biggest import and west coast ports such as Bristol and Liverpool thrived on the sugar cane industry. So why did the general public so willingly give it up?


18th Century Global Citizens!

The Abolitionist sugar boycott at the start of the 1800s was perhaps the first time that consumers had become 'globally aware'. They realised that some of the products they were using every day involved the exploitation of people elsewhere in the world. The sugar boycott is one of the earliest examples of consumers using their purchasing power to reject goods which were 'products of slavery'.


The prominent Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson estimated that around 300,000 people 'of all ranks and parties. Rich and poor, Churchmen and dissenters alike' abandoned slave-produced sugar. Instead they took their tea without sugar or bought the more expensive sugar produced in India, where slave labour was not used.


To find out more about the Sugar Boycott and the Abolition Campaign, see The Message, resource on campaigning through art (also created by Heritage Learning).

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