Tony’s Chocolonely axed from Slave Free Chocolate list, defends ties with Barry Callebaut

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image source: Tony's Chocolonely
Image source: Tony's Chocolonely

Related tags: Cocoa, Child slavery, Tony's Chocolonely, Barry callebaut

The chocolate disruptor brand has been removed from a list of ethical chocolate companies due to ties with ‘Big Cocoa’. Tony’s Chocolonely tells FoodNavigator it deliberately works with Barry Callebaut to show full traceability is possible at scale.

The Slave Free Chocolate list aims to raise awareness about child labour in West African cocoa farms.

An estimated 1.56 million children work in cocoa production in West African nations Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire – where around 70% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown.

Eradicating child labour is also fundamental to disruptor brand Tony’s Chocolonely, which prides itself on producing 100% slave-free chocolate.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, to see Tony’s removed from the Slave Free Chocolate list. The reason? “Their chocolate is made by Barry Callebaut,” ​said Ayn Riggs, founder and director of Slave Free Chocolate, which “ties them to child slavery”.

Tony’s booted from ‘ethical chocolate’ list

Slave Free Chocolate classes specialist chocolate companies Guittard, Montezuma’s, and Seed & Bean, amongst others, as ethical operators. Until very recently, Tony’s was also listed amongst these players.

However, Tony’s ties with Barry Callebaut – which, together with Cargill, dominates global cocoa production – has seen its entry erased. “The fact that their chocolate is made by Barry Callebaut…allows them to produce chocolate cheaper than those who do everything ethically from soup-to-nuts,” ​Riggs told FoodNavigator.

Incidentally, Barry Callebaut – together with chocolate and cocoa majors Nestlé, Cargill, Mars, Mondelēz, Hershey, and Olam – is currently the subject of a US lawsuit brought by human rights organisation International Rights Advocates. Riggs confirmed the lawsuit is unrelated to its decision to remove Tony’s from its list. “It’s just a matter of timing,” ​we were told.

It is not the first time a chocolate brand has been cut from the Slave Free Chocolate List. When Cadbury acquired Green & Blacks back in 2005, it too lost its position amongst Riggs’ ethical chocolate cohort.

At the same time, Slave Free Chocolate stressed it recognises the work Tony’s has done in bringing child labour concerns to the fore. “We appreciate anyone who works on this issue, and Tony’s has done a great job of spreading awareness to the general public.”

How could Tony’s get back on the list?

When asked how Tony’s could be reinstated on the list of ethical chocolate companies, Slave Free Chocolate’s founder said the chocolate maker has three possible options.

Firstly, Tony’s could ‘make their own chocolate’. Secondly, it could opt to outsource chocolate production to a ‘business that is not tied to child slavery at all’. And thirdly, Tony’s could prove to Riggs, in person, that its cocoa supply chain is 100% child slavery-free.

“They are welcome to physically take me through their supply line of beans, all the way through their production line, in an effort to change my mind, and that indeed would” ​she told this publication.

“Chocolate makers who source ethically and produce their own product are at a competitive advantage with ‘Big Cocoa’ as they also claim that their priorities include the welfare of their farmers and families.

“If Big Cocoa was actually doing what they claim to be, then the numbers of exploited children would be going down, not up.”

Fixing the supply chain from within

Slave Free Chocolate’s decision may well appear at odds with Tony’s mission to eradicate slavery from the cocoa supply chain.

When cocoa farmers are underpaid, they resort to recruiting minors, explained Tony’s UK and Ireland Country Manager, Ben Greensmith, at start-up event Bread and Jam last year​.

Greensmith blames farmers’ low wages on structural issues within the sector. The ‘problem lies’, he explained, in the ‘seven big brands and chocolate’ producers in the middle of the value chain. These include Mondelēz, Mars, Nestlé, Hershey, Lindt, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut.

“That’s where all the power sits,” ​Greensmith stressed. “They keep the price of cocoa as low as possible, so they can make as much money as possible.”

Following up with Greensmith yesterday, the country manager explained Tony’s deliberately works with Barry Callebaut to show its slavery-free cocoa sourcing solution is scaleable.

“The chocolate industry is a deeply flawed system that we want to change from within,” ​he told this publication. “We go where the problems are in this industry so we can solve them. We deliberately source our cocoa from West Africa where issues of illegal labour and modern slavery are most prevalent – so we can change it.

“We deliberately work with Barry Callebaut to show it is possible to be fully traceable while working with a large processor.”

Tony’s sources its cocoa according to five sourcing principles, and encourages others in the sector to do the same. These include ensuring the traceability of cocoa beans, paying an addition premium to farmers, buying from professional cooperatives, engaging in 5-year commitments with cooperatives, and undertaking productivity, diversification and quality programmes with farmers.

“Ultimately, we want to show the biggest chocolate brands that it is possible to make delicious chocolate that is free from modern slavery and illegal child labour, so we can get to a 100% slave-free chocolate industry worldwide, faster,” ​explained Greensmith.

If Tony’s were to make its chocolate itself, big chocolate companies could disregard its 5 Sourcing Principles, the country manager argued. And in this scenario, it wouldn’t be possible for such businesses to adopt the principles or apply them at scale.

Greensmith continued: “We welcome debate and conversation around the topic because it helps get us closer to making 100% slave-free the norm in chocolate.”

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