Tony’s Chocolonely CEO getting arrested for taking a stance

The CEO of Tony’s Chocolonely was arrested this morning.

This is a story about a purposeful activist brand that’s taking a real stance for change in society. It’s their mission to “Make chocolate 100% slave free”. Not just their chocolate, all chocolate. They are not just talking about their mission, they are acting upon it. Through their constant proof by action, they are creating a trusted love brand that turns consumers into loyal brand ambassadors.

In this article I’ll take you through their journey, starting in 2005 and ending with today’s reality in 2020. Where the murder of George Floyd sparked international outrage, and global discussions about systematic racism are happening. And how Tony’s Chocolonely once again proves that they have a clear message for the world.

Tony's Chocolate bar

How the story begins…

Tony’s Chocolonely didn’t start out as your “business as usual”. Their story actually begins with a Dutch journalist, Teun van de Keuken, who discovered that much of the world’s chocolate production is associated with slavery and child labour. 

The bitter truth

Some of the shocking stats: 60% of the worlds’ chocolate is coming from Ghana and Ivory Coast. There are 2,5 million small cocoa farmers active in these two countries. There are also 2,3 million children living and working on these farms. 90% of these children are doing illegal child labour. They don’t go to school and are forced to carry heavy bags of cocoa beans. Even worse, 30.000 of these children are being exploited as slaves. Incredibly heavy labour, not getting paid and most of them will never see their families again.

“I should be in jail!”

Back in 2005, Teun is shocked by these discoveries, and decides to create more awareness around the facts. Many chocolate lovers don’t know about this bitter reality. Being a journalist, Teun creates a media stunt and eats 15 chocolate bars on camera, after which he claims he should get arrested for financing child slavery. He even went as far as hiring a lawyer to get him convicted, because he claimed: “I should be in jail”. The trial lasted 2 years, and finally the judge ruled he couldn’t convict him, simply because this would mean that all chocolate eaters would have to go to jail.

Let’s change the industry from within

Tony’s Chocolonely stands for Teuns (Tony’s, in English) lonely fight to change the chocolate industry. With only seven leading chocolate producing companies in the world, it should be possible to eradicate illegal labour from their supply chain, right? The reality was that nothing changed. Frustrated by how difficult it seemed to drive change through legislation, Teun, decided to lead the change from within and lead by example. This was the beginning of the actual Tony’s chocolate bar. Being in business as a chocolate company, they had one clear mission: to make the chocolate industry 100% slave free.

The success recipe

Tony’s Chocolonely operates differently due to their five parts recipe:

  • Traceable cocoa beans – knowing the people behind every step of the supply chain, bringing humanity into business.
  • Paying a higher price – enable farmers to earn a fair income, by paying them more with the Tony’s premium.
  • Strong farmers – gather farmers in cooperatives and help them professionalise their farming.
  • Long term partnerships – working with farmers for a minimum of five years, to enable them to innovate, invest and plan ahead.
  • Improve productivity and less dependency on cocoa – help them optimise their cocoa farming and diverse their farming to be less dependent on cocoa only.

Yes, you read that right. They take responsibility over the full supply chain, making sure that slavery is not part of their chocolate. They even help farmers to move into other types of farming, making them less dependent of chocolate companies like, well, themselves.

Awareness, Leadership & Activism

All of the above is not enough to achieve their mission. How do they go beyond that and work towards a 100% slave free chocolate industry? Well, first of all through building awareness. By letting the world know that there is a problem in the chocolate industry. This is the primary message they focus on in their marketing efforts. Interesting fact: their marketing strategy does not include any traditional above the line paid marketing, in order to keep their conversation as authentic as possible. Secondly, they lead by example and proof with their five part recipe that purpose and profit can co-exist. And lastly, they inspire people to act. They inspire consumers to make different purchasing choices. They inspire governments & legislators to change regulations. And they inspire the chocolate industry to change their way of sourcing cocoa.

Slavery of the past, impact on today

Now, knowing all this about Tony’s Chocolonely, I was happy to read the news today. They finally made it happen to get arrested! Tony’s current CEO spray painted the political message “Black Lives Matter’ and a little Tony’s bar onto a statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, one of the biggest slave traders in Dutch history. His message was this: “We as Tony’s Chocolonely feel we should treat each other with respect. Jan Pieterszoon Coen was one of the biggest slave traders of our history, a message that should be told with the depicting of him here. We can’t rewrite our history, and normally I would never damage something, but with this action I hope to continue the social conversation about the impact of slavery.

The graffiti has been removed from the statue. But his message is out there. Loud and clear.

Check out Tony’s Chocolonely’s website to learn more about them and their mission.


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