Abstract: From the land where the cocoa grows: Representing the Colonial Commodity Chain at the Rowntree Factory, York, c. 1900-1970

Emma Robertson


The Rowntree confectionery firm, famous for products such as Kit Kat and Smarties, was established in 1862 in the northern English city of York. Despite its provincial location, the company depended on imports of key ingredients such as cocoa from around the world, particularly from British colonies. An analysis of the operations of this one firm can therefore illuminate the complex networks and power relations of the global chocolate industry, as well as the everyday workings of British colonialism both "at home" and in the colonies. Bringing together business and cultural history methods, this paper explores how the cocoa commodity chain was represented in gendered and raced ways for York-based workers. Focusing on the in-house journal, <i>Cocoa Works Magazine</i>, I consider how Rowntree management attempted to control the meanings of chocolate production and to present particular understandings of York and of empire. In so doing, I underline the potential of business history to illuminate wider questions about the social and cultural implications of colonialism in specific local contexts.