The Sunday Times reports that anti-slavery chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely has admitted at least 1,700 child labourers were involved in making its confectionery last year.
The company, whose motto is “let’s make chocolate 100 per cent slave-free”, has been backed by the actor Idris Elba, who said in an advert: “What’s not to love about chocolate? Well, two million children working illegally on cocoa plantations. That’s unfair.” Yet in the year to April 2021, Tony’s found 1,701 cases of child labour in its supply chain, a huge rise from 387 the previous year.
In the cocoa industry, children are routinely found using machetes, applying chemicals and performing other hazardous tasks on plantations, according to campaigners.
The number of child labourers used by Tony’s suppliers was revealed in its annual “fair report” which said: “While we’ve never found any cases of modern slavery in our supply chain, we do find cases of child labour. But before your alarm bells go off, know this: finding cases of child labour in the supply chain means change is happening. We want to find the children performing illegal labour. Only then can we work with the families to address the problem.”
Tony’s gets its beans from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. It then uses the Swiss firm Barry Callebaut, one of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers, to turn these into liquid chocolate on a production line segregated from the rest of the factory, to ensure traceability.
Barry Callebaut identified 21,258 cases of child labour in its supply chain, according to a report. Critics say working with Barry Callebaut allows the company to save money, but Tony’s said it paid “more to ensure our cocoa beans are fully segregated”.
Ayn Riggs, founder of Slave Free Chocolate, said Tony’s was “pitching virtue to consumers” but was “completely dependent on its relationship with Barry Callebaut to make and sell chocolate which is in fact tainted by child labourers”. Last year Tony’s was removed from the Slave Free Chocolate list of “ethical companies” — which includes brands such as Montezuma’s and Divine — because of its links to Barry Callebaut.
Explaining rising numbers of exploited children in its supply chain, Tony’s said growing sales meant it was now working with more co-operatives. The firm said it had “remediated” 366 cases of child labour in 2020-21, an increase of 67 per cent on the previous year. This can involve interventions such as arranging birth certificates for children so they can attend school or vocational training.
Lise Colyer, co-founder of OmniAction, a group working to create an independent measure of sustainability across the food sector, said: “This is a good example of why it is so difficult for consumers to make ethical choices. If someone was walking past a Tony’s stand in a supermarket, they would think, ‘Oh, well, this is an entirely ethical option’.” She added: “However, it is progress that Tony’s is accounting for the child labour in its supply chains.”