Sweet, luxurious, delectable, and delicious: around the world, chocolate is a consumer favorite. It tops our ice cream, fills our bellies on Halloween, and makes a s’more a s’more. Chocolate is ingrained in our everyday lives, but most consumers aren’t aware of the exploitation involved in going from cocoa bean to bar.
Much like the coffee, banana, and avocado industries, the cacao tree grows predominantly in the Global South. Although companies like Hershey and Nestlé are worth billions of dollars, most cocoa farmers are barely surviving on salaries of $200 per year. This exploitative value chain has become the norm for many chocolate companies, but we’d like to introduce you to a notable exception.
Tony’s Chocolonely provides a glimmer of hope for workers up and down the chocolate supply chain. Tony’s exists purely to set a higher bar for chocolate cultivation, and they demand the bare minimum: high-quality chocolate that isn’t produced by modern slavery or child labor.
The Bitter Truth About the Chocolate Industry
Although countries in South America also cultivate the cacao tree, just three countries produce 68% of the global chocolate supply: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, and Nigeria. But there’s a key problem for cocoa producers. The price per kilo of cocoa beans is set by the international market, and its low price is perpetuating poverty.
Child Labor & Unsafe Working Conditions
West African farmers working on cocoa plantations earn less than $1 per day. Not only does this result in instability for families, but it also throws entire remote villages into poverty. These villages help create chocolate bars that sell for a few dollars in the Western world, and the farmers are at the bottom of a deeply flawed pyramid. Also at the bottom of that pyramid are child laborers suffering from harmful labor practices.
In the early 2000s, the reality of modern slavery received global attention, particularly in the chocolate industry where slave labor and child slavery are practiced. Of the 5.5 million farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, 1.56 million of these are children working as illegal child laborers. In total, upwards of 30 million people are financially dependent on cocoa production.
A staggering number of child laborers are victims of human trafficking. They’re sold and taken to the Ivory Coast from Burkina Faso, many of them working in grueling conditions for years before their eighteenth birthdays. Up to 40% of births aren’t on official records in Burkina Faso, making it all too simple for traffickers to lie about the ages of their employees. Children and teenagers working on cocoa plantations often sleep in woods with no access to their families, schooling, or a steady food supply.
In September 2001, chocolate companies signed the Harkin–Engel Protocol with the promise to eradicate child slavery from their West African supply chains by 2005 and produce labels that would communicate this with consumers. Two decades later, it’s clear that Nestlé, Hershey, and Mars haven’t made substantial progress to end modern slavery in the cocoa industry. While “Big Chocolate” continues to avoid corporate accountability and paying a livable wage for cocoa beans, producers lean on modern slavery to meet demand.
Ethical Chocolate Companies
Many chocolate makers are pursuing certifications like fair trade that, at the minimum, guarantee higher pay for producers. Fair trade certification arguably isn’t enough to repair the damage already done to the value chain of chocolate. But companies have the opportunity to pay an even higher premium per kilo of cacao beans, like Tony’s, who pays an additional Tony’s premium to ensure a living income for growers.
Certifications like organic, fair trade, and Rainforest Alliance Certified are all a step in the right direction for companies who want to clean up their supply chains, but more must be done to elevate cacao-growing communities and bring them out of the systemic poverty created by the cocoa industry. This is where Tony’s Chocolonely comes in. In addition to paying higher wages, Tony’s is showing other cocoa companies that it is possible to be profitable and do good.
Tony’s Chocolonely: 100% Slave-Free Chocolate
The journey to Tony’s Chocolonely began in 2002, with bars hitting shelves in 2005. Unlike other companies, Tony’s was founded explicitly as a mission-driven company to eradicate slavery and child labor from the cocoa supply chain. This Dutch company hopes to lead by example and raise the bar for other cocoa companies.
Tony’s is a B Corporation and Fairtrade Certified, but the company also offsets carbon emissions by greening desert land in Africa and has been rated the Most Sustainable Brand by Dutch consumers for three years running.
Ynzo van Zanten, Chief Evangelist of Tony’s Chocolonely
Ynzo came to Tony’s Chocolonely in 2016, and as the Chief Evangelist, it’s his mission to harness the power of storytelling and spread the word on Tony’s path to 100% slave-free chocolate.
Tony’s has become a globally recognized brand without spending one dollar on advertising. Instead, Ynzo uses his unique skillset to change the chocolate industry from within through storytelling. Ynzo doesn’t want Tony’s Chocolonely to be the only slave-free chocolate company or the only one making sustainable chocolate products. He wants the entire industry to shift its priorities and put people first.
“That direct relationship is essential because if you build a direct and long-term relationship you can pay a fair price, a higher price directly to those farmers.”
Principles of Slave-Free Chocolate:
As a leader in the ethical chocolate space, Tony’s abides by these principles to achieve slave-free chocolate. The company uses these same principles to guide other chocolate companies into ethical chocolate production.
- Traceable Cocoa Beans: Tony’s beans are 100% traceable through direct trade with farmers. The company ensures that environmental and social standards are high for workers.
- Higher Prices: Paying above market price is imperative for slave-free chocolate until the market price is set at an actual living wage.
- Strong Farmers: Tony’s partners with cooperatives to empower all farmers, which addresses inequalities in the supply chain and keeps chocolate slave free.
- The Long Term: Committing to long-term relationships with farmers is key for economic stability.
- Improved Quality & Productivity: Investing in agricultural education for cacao is crucial for sustainable cocoa plantations.
Closing: Raising the Bar
So, is chocolate made without slavery possible? We sure think so! While much of the onus for social equality in the cocoa industry is on businesses, as consumers we can all vote with our dollars and support brands like Tony’s who are raising the bar for the entire industry.
Next time you’re in the chocolate aisle, consider where those bars came from, and opt for slave-free chocolate with a company like Tony’s Chocolonely.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Tony’s Chocolonely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- Tony’s Chocolonely on Thrive Market
- The Chocolate Case Documentary
- Rotten: Bitter Chocolate on Netflix
- Sign the Petition for 100% Slave-Free Chocolate
- Into the Wild by John Krakauer
Content Manager & Writer, Grow Ensemble
Jacqueline is a mission-driven freelance writer living in Nashville, TN. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Prior to being a freelancer, she worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jacqueline enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.