The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 has sparked a worldwide resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. It has forced millions of people to see the institutionalised racism that is still so apparent, not only in the US but also here in the UK. Racism and inequality still permeate all aspects of society.
Unfortunately, the UK’s favourite food brands are not exempt from this – even something as seemingly inoffensive as a humble chocolate bar is complicit in wage inequality, child labour, and modern-day slavery. However, as you will now find out, not all chocolate brands are created equal.
Enter Tony’s Chocolonely, the Dutch chocolate brand known for its bright (partially-recycled) packaging, enticing flavours, and passion for creating a chocolate industry free of slave labour.
I spoke to Ben Greensmith, the UK and Ireland Country Manager, about Tony’s mission and how they are changing the chocolate industry for the better.
What is Tony’s mission?
“Tony’s Chocolonely exists to change the massively unequal cocoa industry for the better. Not many people know that 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa. In fact, there are 2.5 million farms in those 2 countries producing most of the world’s cocoa. These are family-run farms.
This is one side of the value chain. On the other side of the value chain, you have billions of consumers who love eating chocolate but don’t really know where their cocoa is coming from – people like us.
In the middle, there are 7 big producers who make billions in profit but, unfortunately, pay as little as possible for the cocoa so they can maximise their profits and this leads to massive inequality and big structural problems. As a result of these inhumanely low prices, farmers are forced to live in poverty. And that leads to illegal child labour and modern slavery.”
What does this mean for children involved in the cocoa industry in West Africa?
“Shockingly there are 2.1 million children working illegally in West Africa on cocoa farms today. This is a result of poverty as the parents/grandparents can’t afford to hire labour due to the low wages, so they are taken out of school.
They’re exposed to pesticides, work with machetes, carry too heavy loads, and are doing dangerous work to help out and are denied an education. There are also a minimum of 30,000 people working in the cocoa industry in West Africa who have been sold and trafficked as slaves. These kids are taken from their families, promised money and education, but then held against their will; and if they try to escape they are beaten or killed.”
In order to continue to help cocoa producers in West Africa, Tony has created 5 sourcing principles. These principles aim to change how the chocolate industry runs. Ben stated, “We want other companies to copy our sourcing principles rather than ignoring the problem. Only by doing this, can we really change things together. Scale = impact = awareness.”
What are the statistics?
“We work with 7 Co-Operatives at the moment. This is about 7,000 farmers (tiny versus the 2.5m farms out there). About 10% of the cost of our bar goes to the farmers as a result of our premiums.
We have given over 12million Euros in premiums and this means that about 6-7% of our turnover is given back to support them and their communities to earn a fair wage.
We also give 1% of our annual net revenue to the Tony’s Foundation which is a separate charity focused on West African communities on separate projects, for example empowering women, educational work, etc.”
Do you think the current climate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement will lead to more people researching where their chocolate is from?
“Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of where their cocoa is actually coming from. Fewer than 1 in 3 people in the UK are aware of the issue of slavery and child-labour in the cocoa industry so most don’t know that their cocoa is coming from West Africa.
We want to change this by making people aware and then they can make an informed choice. It is crazy to think that this form of historical exploitation of African communities is happening today; and companies are not being forced to do anything about it.
It’s 2020 and it’s chocolate – none of us need it. It’s why we have started a petition to force a law that stops companies from having child or slave labour in their value chains.”
Have you had any personal experience with the impact that Tony’s is having in West Africa?
“In February 2019 I spent just over a week in Ivory Coast visiting our partner Co-Operatives and it was really humbling. The farmers don’t have much, but what they do have they just want to share with their communities. There was such a sense of welcoming but also pride in what they do.
One farmer I met was so happy to be working with Tony’s that he gave us a goat! This legend had also given over 1/3 of his farm to his wife to empower her which was amazing to see too. Meeting this couple was my highlight of a really moving week that made me want to work twice as hard to change the cocoa industry for the better – it really put what we do into context for me.”
If you want to get involved in revolutionising the chocolate industry, why not buy yourself a bar of Tony’s? They also make great gifts. So treat yourself or a mate!
On campus, they are available at the Utility store on Oxford Road, The Source Cafe on Fallowfield Campus, and FoodInResidence in catered halls. Tony’s is also available to buy at Sainsbury’s.
WANT TO WIN A YEARS SUPPLY OF TONY’S? (OF COURSE YOU DO)
Head over to the Mancunion’s Puzzle Page from October 12th to enter the prize draw!