In 1791, abolitionists failed to persuade the English Parliament to pass a bill calling for an end to slavery in the country’s colonies. The abolitionists then called for a boycott of Caribbean sugar. Sugar from the New World, together with rum, cotton, coffee, and tobacco, relied on slave labor. The boycotters hoped that economic pressure might force the end of the exploitative trade in human lives.
The activist and author William Fox published a pamphlet calling for English households to refuse to purchase “slave sugar.” At the height of the boycott, some 400,000 homes were estimated to have either stopped using sugar or switched to non-Caribbean sugar.
Importers of sugar from the East Indies – where slave labor wasn’t used – took advantage of the boycott to label their products, stating that their sugar was not made by slaves. Households in Regency England proudly displayed these jars to show guests that they supported the sugar boycott.
Sugar sales dropped by a third in the first two months of the boycott, and many grocers either refused to sell Caribbean sugar, or stopped selling sugar entirely. Over the next two years, sales of other sugar rose ten-fold.
Abolitionists brought back the boycott in the 1820s in another attempt to end slavery in the British Empire.