More than 1,700 child workers involved in production of ‘slave-free’ Tony’s Chocolonely

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Despite its efforts to weed out exploitation in the production of chocolate – not least its own – chocolatier Tony’s Chocolonely (Tony’s) has revealed in its latest annual report that 1,701 child labourers were still used to help make its popular brand of chocolate in the past year.

Overall, around 1.56 million children work illegally on cocoa farms in the African countries of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, where they are often forced into hazardous tasks such as using machetes and spraying harmful pesticides. Around 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa.

What makes this particularly newsworthy, though, is that Tony’s has built its brand on its vision of making ‘100% slave-free chocolate a reality’.

To do this, it follows the three pillars of its roadmap: creating awareness about illegal labour in the cocoa industry, leading by (scalable) example to prove slave-free chocolate is possible from bean to bar, and inspiring ‘Big Choco’ to act and take their responsibility for creating a slave-free chocolate industry as seriously as it claims to do.

Despite the mission, its own figures showed a spike in child labour in 2021 compared to the previous year, when 387 underage workers were found. In response, the company stated, “More cases than last year? Yep. To make more impact, we worked with more farmer partners this year to source cocoa. This means more farmers earning more money for their cocoa, but also means the process for identifying, remediating and preventing child labour started from scratch again here, so the child labour rate was at the industry average.

“Child labour is a horrendous fact of a broken chocolate industry,” Tony’s stated in its annual Fair Report. The average rate of child labour in the chocolate industry is 46.5% (one in two children working illegally). At the farmer cooperatives that the chocolatier partners with, which implement the company’s ‘5 Sourcing Principles’, this rate drops to 3.9%. Tony’s sees this as progress.

According to the Global Slavery Index in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire – where Tony’s sources its beans – there were around 30,000 victims of modern slavery working in the industry. It uses Swiss firm Barry Callebaut to turn the beans into liquid chocolate on a production line separated from the rest of the factory to make it traceable.

“It’s no secret that Barry Callebaut has come under fire in the past for things we, Tony’s, condemn – e.g. negligence and human rights infringements in their supply chain,” a Tony’s press release from late-January confirmed. “At Tony’s, we exist to make all chocolate 100% slave-free, not just our own. That means climbing into the lion’s den and tackling change from within. It means getting to the root of the problem and paving the way for others by proving the scalability of our solutions.”

As Barry Callebaut is one of the biggest cocoa processors in the world, making use of their facilities is a no brainer for Tony’s, it insists. “Setting-up shop right beside ‘Big Choco’ means that we’re able to prove first-hand that it is possible to be processing substantial volumes of cocoa beans and still be 100% traceable and slave free.”

And what of the 1.56 million working illegally in the production of cocoa in Africa? “Well, that’s down to the biggest players to take full responsibility for their supply chains. We strongly invite all choco companies to adopt our 5 Sourcing Principles and join us in making 100% slave free the norm in chocolate.”

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