Sister Meets...Tony's Chocolonely

Sister Meets...Tony's Chocolonely

I know we all (well most of us) love it but I really do LOVE chocolate. There always seems to be an occasion for chocolate whether it's a celebration, nursing heartache, sharing with friends or having a bar at the ready for your 'you' time, I love giving and receiving it. Only yesterday I was feeling down and my best friend left me a bar of fruit and nut on my doorstep.

As an avid chocolate fan I've only ever focused on the joy that first bite usually brings me, the furthest I've looked into the making of chocolate was going to a York's Chocolate Story a few years ago and that was just for the freebies. However there is a nasty after taste to the chocolate industry that I've been very much ignorant to. 

On the 25th January 2021 Tony's Chocolonely launched four limited edition 'look-alike' chocolate bars named 'The Sweet Solution' bars to raise awareness of the fact that 20 years after the chocolate industry promised to eradicate illegal child labour, it is still widely prevalent. They were planned to be available from UK supermarkets but, after one day in stores, some big chocolate makers put pressure on Tony’s retailers to remove them because they didn’t want to be associated with the claims of illegal labour within the chocolate industry.

If like me you're completely shocked by this revelation let's take a look back on Tony's journey so far. Dutch journalist, Teun van de Keuken, was truly horrified when he read a book about child slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa, so he investigated the matter with his Dutch television program ‘Keuringsdienst van Waarde’. Teun rang every single chocolate maker in the world, but nobody would talk to him. So, as an act of protest and to create awareness, he ate a pile of chocolate bars on his television show and turned himself in, as a chocolate criminal to the Dutch authorities. This caused a media frenzy and he used that attention to begin Tony's Chocolonely with the mission to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, changing the industry from within by raising awareness of the issue, leading by example and inspiring key industry stakeholders to act. 

In 2001 the world’s biggest chocolate companies supported the Harkin–Engel Protocol, committing to eradicate illegal child labour and modern slavery from the chocolate supply chain. However since that promise was made, not much has actually changed. Today, over 1.56 million children and at least 30,000 victims of modern slavery are forced to work on cocoa plantations as evidenced in the US-government sponsored NORC report published in October 2020. 

The newly launched Sweet Solution bars are inspired by the world’s most iconic chocolate brands that together represent the face of a big chocolate industry that isn't helping to eradicate child labour. We spoke to Nicola Matthews the UK Marketing Manager at Tony’s to find out more.

We absolutely love Tony's mission and how the brand began out of pure activism. For our readers who may not know please could you explain Tony's Chocoloney's mission?

Tony’s Chocolonely exists to make 100% slave free chocolate the norm. We are an impact company that makes chocolate, not a chocolate company that makes impact. We are showing the world that chocolate can be made differently – in taste, packaging and how you do business with cocoa farmers.

You've just launched your limited edition 'look-alike' chocolate bars named Sweet Solution, what is the message behind these four particular bars?

With these bars we are not pointing a finger, but making a point. It’s been 20 years since the world’s biggest chocolate companies signed the Harkin Engel protocol and pledged to eradicate illegal labour from cocoa supply chains. But as the latest figures published in October last year show – the problem is worse than ever. We want to raise awareness of this amongst consumers and call on big chocolate companies to do more to change it. We should all be able to eat our favourite chocolate bars without the concern that they have been made using illegal child labour. At Tony’s we have developed 5 sourcing principles which we think are the Sweet Solution to this bitter truth, and we invite all big chocolate companies to adopt them.

"We are an impact company that makes chocolate, not a chocolate company that makes impact."

For our readers who may be discovering Tony's for the first time, could you please explain how huge the problem is regarding child labour and modern slavery within the cocoa plantations?

The most recent numbers confirm that there are 1.56m children working illegally and at least 30k instances of modern slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa where 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from. The root cause of this is poverty because cocoa farmers are not paid enough for their cocoa. Only 28% of people in the UK are aware that there is slavery and illegal labour in the chocolate supply chain, but when they are aware they can make a more conscious choice about which chocolate treats they enjoy. With this campaign we are trying to raise awareness and make a positive impact on the industry.

In the Netherlands Tonys Chocolate has become one of its market leaders, is this something you hope for within the UK market?

We would love to become a market leader, and after only 2 years on sale we are currently the fastest growing chocolate brand in the UK which is very exciting. The bigger we become, the more ethically-sourced cocoa we will buy and the more impact we can make. But even if we do become a market leader we can’t change the chocolate industry alone – we need big chocolate companies to change the way they source their cocoa too. Only together can we make all chocolate 100% slave free.

I understand that Tony's has become known by earned media surrounding the work you do rather than throwing money at a huge advertising budget. With brands such as Kit Kat and Toblerone clearly identifiable on your Sweet Solution wrappers did you hope this would create some media attention for your UK market?

The four Sweet Solution chocolate bars are inspired by the world’s most iconic chocolate brands that together are the face of a big chocolate industry. They represent all bars in the industry that we wish we could eat with the confidence that they have not been made using illegal child labour. We hope with every statement that we make that it will be seen by as many people as possible, because that’s how we raise awareness of the problems and make a positive impact.

As a brand you seem to create consumers who get out and do the activism for you which seems extremely valuable to your brand. How can we (our readers) become part of the solution?

Signing our petition for human rights legislation that would make companies legally accountable for violations in their supply chain will really help our cause. Visit to sign. Sharing our chocolate and sharing our story also helps us get closer to a world where 100% slave free chocolate is the norm.

You are a commercial company and some people have criticised you in the past for wanting to make a profit and losing your activism roots. Surely it can only be a good thing that a company that is fair in its rights also makes a profit? Do you think these two things will ever go hand in hand and you'll still be able to keep a huge following without selling out?

We deliberately make a profit to show other companies that it is possible - you can have a delicious, market-leading, profitable product without exploiting those at the start of the supply chain. Our model has to be replicable if we have any chance of bigger companies adopting it and changing the whole industry for the better. We just spread the profits more equally through the value chain and believe that is the future of responsible business.

"You can have a delicious, market-leading, profitable product without exploiting those at the start of the supply chain"

Do you ever think the big brands will take responsibility and make the chocolate industry 100% slave free? 

To have the best chance of making all chocolate free of illegal child labour and slavery we believe 5 things have to be in place- our 5 sourcing principles. These include paying a higher price, strengthening farmer cooperatives, engaging in long-term direct trading partnerships, and focusing on cocoa quality and productivity to optimise cocoa yields.

The whole system has to change – only doing 1 or 2 things will not be enough. All big chocolate companies are doing some of these things but none are doing all and that’s what we are campaigning for. Consumer pressure, retailer pressure and legislation would all help to speed up this change within big companies whose main objective is profit.

Where can we buy your chocolate within the UK?

Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Ocado, Whole Foods, lots of independents and Tony’s online Choco Shop.

All profits from your Sweet Solution bars are being donated to the independent platform 100WEEKS – could you please explain what they do and why you chose to donate to them?

100 weeks is an independent platform that uses direct cash transfers and financial training to assist women in escaping the cycle of extreme poverty - they work directly with women in the cocoa communities we buy from. 

It’s so important to us to support these communities on the ground which is why 1% of all our revenues goes to The Chocolonely Foundation which funds projects such as 100 weeks.

Don't forget to sign Tonys Chocolonely petition here and find our more here.

Article by Rosie Faye Ellis

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