Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Tony’s Chocolonely and a Roadmap for CSR principles

The chocolate business has long been plagued with associations with slavery and child labor. In the countries where manufacturers buy their cocoa beans, trading companies and farmers traditionally have engaged in exploitative and unfair business practices both between each other and in employing the work of slaves, many of them children. Chocolatiers have even claimed that producing chocolate without the use of slave labor at some point in the supply chain, however remote, is impossible to prove or accomplish. Instead, the industry has focused on shifting risk or responsibility for the use of slave labor or abusive trade partnerships by moving these decisions and relationships to third parties and offering ignorance or lack of control as a defense.

Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch confectionary company, offers an intriguing alternative to and challenge within this market. The eponymous Tony is actually Teun van de Keuken, a Dutch investigative reporter. In 2002, van de Keuken was working on a project about chocolate manufacturers. He determined that none of the manufacturers he studied that had signed the 2001 Harkin-Engel (aka Cocoa) Protocol, an international agreement intended to end child and forced labor in chocolate production, were in full compliance with the protocol’s requirements. Therefore, all the chocolate for sale by those candy companies (including Hershey’s, M&M Mars, Nestle, and Guittard) was, in van de Keuken’s view, an illegally-manufactured product.

Van de Keuken contacted signatories to the Harkin-Engel Protocol to approach them about producing chocolate bars made without forced labor, but according to him, none were interested. Therefore in 2005, van de Keuken decided to make his own fair-trade (and on the way to slave-free) chocolate bars, registering Tony’s Chocolonely officially in 2006 with the objective of making chocolate products that are 100% slave-free. In 2007, a Dutch court ruling acknowledged that indeed the chocolate sold by Tony’s Chocolonely was produced without the use of forced labor.

With the momentum of this certification and toward sustaining its goal as a responsible and progressive participant in the slave-free chocolate industry, in 2012 Tony’s Chocolonely put into words a Roadmap that had been in action since the company started in 2005. This Roadmap provides a foundation from which the company aspires to achieve 100% slave-free chocolate not just sold by Tony’s but in the industry as a whole. The Roadmap relies upon three simple statements of intention which could have powerful application in any corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative:

  • Create awareness – Tony’s Chocolonely aims to make their retail partners as well as their customers and consumers of chocolate in general aware of the issues in the chocolate industry with forced and child labor and exploitation of unfair business relationships or fair trade designations that still do not meet the standard of slave-free and inequality-free. Through this awareness would come the demand for change which would provide the commercial and market-share incentive for businesses to take responsibility and address it.
  • Lead by example – After customer awareness leads to demand, companies have to take leadership by making changes in their own businesses and basing relationships on sustainability within these standards. Leading by example requires companies to work ahead and make the changes for which they advocate, in order to prove they can be done, such as making chocolate without the use of slave labor. Transparency in supply chains, long-term relationships with vetted partners, and agreements without exploitation are all ethical and commercial commitments to setting an example and making values-based leadership a part of a public brand.
  • Inspire to act – After modelling conduct, leader companies to look to find evangelist partners that share the same CSR standards and ambitions and will begin to work together to see change in the wider industry. Therefore a broad-based activist movement can start from within, with participant companies enabling change as both competitive advantage for their highly-aware customer base as well cooperation with their business advocacy partners.

Together, these three pillars represent a plan for CSR as both commercial identity and corporate brand that looks outward (toward society and customers or other stakeholders), inward (at the company’s own business and cultural practices and norms), and forward (in order to inspire collaboration and put action to activism).

Tony’s Chocolonely has also branded its business principles, which they see as their “recipe for slave free cocoa” and offer to other companies in the chocolate industry as a best practices recommendation:

  • Pay a fair price – Contribute to eliminating the inequalities which create unfair practices, so that fairness is an ongoing reward for quality.
  • Follow the cocoa bean – Take accountability for and have awareness of the supply chain and work agilely, with continuous improvement in mind.
  • Go for the long haul – Promote sustainability in business relationships, going for long-term investments over short-term success or easy but unprincipled wins.
  • Farmers stand strong together – Strengthen and respect stakeholder foundations and seek to create credibility and rely upon honesty and credibility.
  • Improve quality and productivity together – Again, cooperate in long-term, sustainable relationships and look for improvement in the process rather than short-cuts or purely commercial advantage.

These business principles are important for considering both growth objectives and external relationship management in order to create success that both works and lasts.

To learn more about Tony’s Chocolonely and their corporate vision, including the roadmap and principles of cooperation, check out the Our Mission section of their English-language website.

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