Sustainability

Tony’s Chocolonely rejects modern slavery allegation in its cocoa

By Anthony Myers contact

- Last updated on GMT

'Tony’s traceability is guaranteed,' the company said, confirming it will continue to work with Barry Callebaut. Pic: ConfectioneryNews
'Tony’s traceability is guaranteed,' the company said, confirming it will continue to work with Barry Callebaut. Pic: ConfectioneryNews

Related tags: Tony's Chocolonely, Barry callebaut

Dutch ethical brand Tony’s Chocolonely has defended its reputation for making ‘100% slave free chocolate the norm’ after it was struck off a list of companies that use ethically sourced cocoa by the American organization Slave Free Chocolate.

Paul Schoenmakers, the company’s Head of Impact, speaking exclusively to this publication, said he was "surprised​" by the move.

First of all, to get the record straight, we never found a case of modern slavery in our supply chain. That's not the reason that we are crossed off the list - it is because we work with Barry Callebaut​.”

Segregated

Tony’s has an agreement with the huge multinational cocoa supplier to produce its chocolate bars on a totally segregated production line at its factory in Belgium.

The Dutch brand has been criticised in the past for working with Barry Callebaut, one of the biggest cocoa processors in the world.

‘This decision is deliberate,’ it said on a statement on its website: ‘Our mission is to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide. The third pillar of our roadmap is to inspire others to act, most importantly, to inspire other big chocolate companies to adopt our 5 Sourcing Principles.

‘In 2005, we deliberately chose to partner with Barry Callebaut to show that it is possible to be fully traceable while working with a large processor. From the start, Barry Callebaut has believed in our mission and collaborated with us to set up fully segregated processing for our 100% traceable beans so they are never mixed with other beans. Working with Barry Callebaut allows us to further scale up our production and enables us to grow Tony's Open Chain by processing the 100% traceable cocoa beans from our mission allies, too’. 

Lawsuit

Barry Callebaut is one of the big chocolate companies named in a lawsuit over the weekend alleging child slavery claims on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire​, where more than 75% of the world’s cocoa is grown.

Barry Callebaut said it is committed to eradicating child labour from its supply chain by 2025, which usually involves children from the family working on farms.

It also said: “The lawsuit brought forward by International Rights Advocates concerns the rare practice of trafficking children to work on farms, which the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments, together with industry, are actively combating​.”

Slave Free Chocolate, a grassroots organisation founded in 2007 to ‘bring awareness through campaigns and education to aid in the eradicate the use of worst forms of child labour and child slavery in the cocoa farms of West Africa’, said the deal with Barry Callebaut allows Tony’s to save money and undercut other ethical chocolate makers who have their own factories.

Transparent

Schoenmakers said Tony’s is very open and transparent about cases of illegal child labour found in its chain and last year uncovered 87 cases and has been mediating 221 ongoing cases.

So, this is an ongoing thing. But that is of course a different format from modern slavery, which we haven't found a case to date​,” he said.

Schoenmakers said Tony’s traceability is guaranteed and is also audited independently by accountancy firm PWC every year.

So, in that case, it's unfortunate that they have crossed us off list, we normally pass any proper certification with flying colours. So that's unfortunate. If you look at the criteria on the Slave Free Chocolate website, we absolutely comply, but they are making this point about working with Barry Callebaut and it is a pity because in the end we are fighting for the same cause of course​.”

Tony Chocolonely director Henk Jan Beltman told Dutch media he sees no reason to end the working relationship with Barry Callebaut.

We want to get the big boys in the chocolate industry to change their ways​,” he said.

Statement

A statement on the Tony’s Chocolonely website said: ‘The author of the Slave Free Chocolate list feels that us working with Barry Callebaut is at odds with our mission to make all chocolate 100% slave free, but we work with Barry Callebaut to make this mission possible on a global scale.

‘The author of this particular list, who we have much respect for, does not currently feel that we fulfil all of the criteria to be included on it. This is nothing new to us though – we haven’t been included on several lists of ethical chocolate suppliers in the past because of our decision to source cocoa directly from Ghana and Ivory Coast. Many feel that sourcing from those countries automatically means that there will be illegal labour and modern slavery in your supply chain. We have deliberately chosen this more difficult route for that reason – so we can change it. If we simply ignore the problems in West Africa, or switch sourcing away we will never solve the issue which is why we go to where the problems are - so we can solve them.’

Complex

The move by Slave Free Chocolate highlights the complex relationship chocolate companies have in making their supply chains transparent and free from forced labour.

Last year, a highly critical NORC study at the University of Chicago and funded by the US Department of Labor​ concluded that 1.56 million child labourers were involved in cocoa production and harvesting in cocoa growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in the 2018/19 growing season, an increase of 14% since a 2015 study, and 1.48 million child labourers engaged in hazardous work during this period.

As well as the fresh lawsuit in the United States, there have been calls for tighter legislation from the EU and the US government regarding the importing of cocoa from West Africa because of sustainability concerns.

Clarification: 

  • The NORC report​ does not​ provide data on child trafficking and makes it clear it focuses on child labour and hazardous child labour 'as defined by ILO conventions and does not​ cover forced child labour, child slavery, or child trafficking'​.
  • The World Cocoa Foundation told ConfectioneryNews that although data on child trafficking is difficult to find, one reliable source of information is this report by Walk Free / Tulane University: https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Cocoa-Report_181004_V15-FNL_digital.pdf​.

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