Ynzo van Zanten, Tony’s Chocolonely’s “Choco Evangelist” at FRAUDtalks spoke about their innovative roadmap to 100% slave-free chocolate.
My name is Ynzo. and indeed I am the evangelist of Tony’s. And I’ve got bad news and good news for you today. So the good news is that all of you are going home with chocolate. That’s my Oprah Winfrey moment. The bad news is though that that chocolate comes with a price. And that price is called awareness. So in the next 17,5 minutes I’m gonna make you responsible for the story behind chocolate.Because chocolate might well be the solution to everything, right?
If you’re having a crappy week, your wife was horrible, there’s nothing better to fix that crappy week than a big chunk of chocolate in your face. Or maybe you’re having a great week and your kids were writing poetry in the corner all week, yeah, Utopia, but still, to celebrate that week, all you need is a big chunk of chocolate. So it’s a solution to everything.
But there’s a very bitter reality to the chocolate we eat still today and I’m here to tell you about that.
So how does the world of chocolate or cocoa look? Cocoa grows around the equator. There’s a little bit of cocoa that comes from Asia. A little bit of cocoa that comes from South America, where originally cocoa comes from. But the majority of all cocoa is grown on millions of tiny farms in Western Africa. That’s one side of the value chain. The other side of the value chain is billions of consumers like you and I who just want to be able to eat a full bar of chocolate everyday in your life without having to feel any sense of guilt. In the middle of that value chain there is only a handful of companies that actually produce chocolate from cocoa. Those are the big industrials like Cargill and Callebaut. Or the bigger brand names like Nestlé, Mars, Hershey’s, Mondelez, but no more than 10 companies make about 99% of all chocolate in the whole wide world. And it’s in their interest that the price of cocoa remains low. In our opinion that price is inhumanely low. Because how does that look of a bar that is sold in Holland for about €2,80 on the shelves? No more than 10 or 12 cents actually goes to the farmer that grows that cocoa. And to put that into perspective, the average cocoa farmer in Ivory Coast grows about a thousand kilos of cocoa beans a year. For a current market price of €1,17 per kilo, that means he has less than €1.200 revenue per year.
Now that leads to him and his family members living of 47 euro cents available income per day. Let that sink in for a second. 47 euro cents available income per day. Which is way below the poverty level that’s stated at €2,11 for a country like Ivory Coast. We think that value chain is utterly unequally divided.
Now how does that look from 2 countries in Western Africa: Ghana and Ivory Coast. Comes about 60% of all cocoa in the whole wide world. And that’s grown on 2,5 million farms. And on those farms there’s 2,3 million children working there, of which 90% work under illegal circumstances.
So that means they work with chemicals, heavy machinery, walk around with big machetes, or carry bags of cocoa beans that weigh 60 kilos per bag, at the age of 7, 8 or 9. And in the worst case, at least 30 thousand kids are subject to something that we call human trafficking. So they’re lured, for example, from the neighboring countries like Burkina Faso on the false pretenses like: You can earn some money in the cocoa industry,and we’ll educate you to become a cocoa farmer. You can send home some money.But they disappear in that industry. Now these are statistics.
But let me introduce you to a couple of these kids. This is Kam Togue. And Kam Togue is asked to sign a witness statement. But he can’t read or write, so all he can do is put a cross on that place.
And he is utterly ashamed of this. That he can’t read or write. Now, if you realize that in the middle of the value chain, there is only a handful of companies that are responsible for the problem in the cocoa industry you could also reason that the problem is easily solved, right?
If it’s only a handful of companies that are responsible for that problem.
And in 2001 there were two American Senators that realized the same thing: Senator Harkin and Senator Engel. They set up the Harkin-Engel protocol to eradicate the worst forms of child labor from the cocoa industry within 5 years time. And it was signed by all of the CEOs of the big chocolate firms that I just mentioned.
Unfortunately, the Harkin-Engel protocol was and is a so-called non binding agreement. And non binding agreements don’t get you anywhere. And it shows because now 18 years down the line, non of the goals in the protocol have been achieved.
In 2005 there was a Dutch television show, De Keuringsdienst van Waren, which is more or less the equivalent of The 60 Minutes of Food, or the Food CIA. And journalist Teun van de Keuken was shocked when he realized that almost at the end of the first term of the Harkin-Engel protocol nothing had changed in the chocolate industry. Even worse, nothing had been done towards change in the chocolate industry. But Teun had an issue, because he is a television journalist and non of these parties wanted to speak to him on camera. So Teun came up with a smart move. Teun bought 10 different bars of chocolate of which he was sure that somewhere in the value chain there was forced child labour. And he put a camera on himself. And he took a bite of all those bars and he called the international alarm number. And he said, “I wanna turn myself in as a chocolate criminal”. It was quiet at the other end of the line, they don’t get these phone calls everyday.
And the lady said, “Why, Sir?”. And Teun reasoned, “Well, according to international law, if you’re aware of criminal activities in the value chain of a product you buy, you’re responsible for those criminal activities”. Teun said, “If at the end of the afternoon in Amsterdam in a shady park I’ll buy a second hand bicycle for a ridiculously low price from a guy that doesn’t smell too well, I can rest assure I’m not buying a legal second hand bicycle. And I make myself responsible for the theft of that bicycle”. It’s called fencing. “So by consuming and buying chocolate of which I know that there is forced child labour in there I’ve made myself complicit of financing child slavery and that’s illegal, so you have to come and arrest me”.
Well Teun still wasn’t being taken seriously. So Teun had a court case set up against himself. Well, long story short, in the end the judge said, “I can’t prosecute you”. And Teun didn’t get this court case. Because the causality between the bars that he ate and the beans that were picked by Kam Togue from the movie, who was flown in as a witness, the judge couldn’t prove that. So Teun said, “You know what, if I don’t have the verdict, if I don’t have the interviews, I’ll change that system from within”. And he started his own little chocolate company called Tony’s Chocolonely.
Indeed, the worst brand name you can imagine. Because the majority of the Dutch always talk about Tony Chocolony. And I was introduced the other day at a conference as Ynzo from Toko Chocoloco. I figure that guy could’ve done his homework a bit better, but anyway. So Tony’s Chocolonely was born. A small company, but with a huge mission. To not only make our own chocolate 100% slave free, but to make all chocolate 100% slave free.
Now we’re really proud of the fact that recently we became market leaders in The Netherlands.
Outdoing all traditional competition within a very short time frame. But Holland is a small country.
And we’re not too big of chocolate eaters either. So we’re expanding quickly abroad; US, UK, Scandinavia, Germany, etc. But we still manage to cling on to that culture of a small company. Because a wise woman, Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop once said: “If you think something small can’t make a difference, try sharing your room with a mosquito”. We’re the mosquito in the room of the chocolate industry. Constantly buzzing, sometimes stinging and hopefully keeping that industry awake at night, like a proper mosquito should be doing.
Now how do we think we can reach that humongous goal of a 100% slave free chocolate worldwide. The first step is to simply create awareness amongst chocolate consumers about the bitter reality that is still there in the chocolate industry today. Because we’re convinced that when consumers and retailers, simply hand in hand ask more questions about what they put in their shopping baskets or what they put up on their shelves. That the producers of these goods will feel the pressure and will have to change their ways. Now how do we do this? By collecting our faithful consumers into something we call our serious friends. And those are people that not just buy Tony’s because they like our chocolate, not just buy Tony’s because they buy into our mission, but actively spread that message among friends and family. Now how do we do this for example?
We opened a little store in the heart of Amsterdam in de Beurs van Berlage, where you can make your own Tony’s bars. And people think: ah, that’s an interesting commercial enterprise. For us, historically, it’s much more interesting. Because we’re literally 2 floors down from the place where for centuries cocoa beans were traded. Now that wasn’t crazy enough for us, so we announced last year that we’re gonna open our own factory at the outskirts of Amsterdam.And because that factory is there for us not to make chocolate, or not only to make chocolate,but to spread that story we raised the bar and we said we wanna get almost half a million people to that factory every year.
Now a boring factory not even in the middle of Amsterdam, how do you get half a million people there? Because then you’re amongst one of the biggest venues in The Netherlands. So we asked our most trustful advisors: our kids. And they said, “Maybe, dad, you get those people to the factory if you got a roller coaster go through your factory”. So we’re gonna have a roller coaster go through the factory and through our office, so every 2 minutes you’re gonna see people in utter fear coming through our office. That’s gonna be great. So all of this is just to create awareness.
The second step in our strategy is that we wanna show the chocolate industry that chocolate can be made in a different way. In a more social way. In a more sustainable way.
In our opinion in a better way. How? By taking full responsibility for your value chain for example.
So we now buy our cocoa beans directly from 5,5 thousand farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast that are united in 5 cooperatives. And why is that traceability so important for us? Because then we can pay a higher price directly to those farmers. And that means that on top of the market price we pay a 20% fair trade premium and about 20-40% additional Tony’s premium to get these farmers towards a living income. Which you can debate for hours, which some people in the industry do, but it’s simply that you are able to have a roof over your head, feed your family, send your kids to school, and be able to invest a little bit in your farm to get into that spiral upwards. So we go for long term relationships with these farmers. We help them improve their productivity. We also decrease their dependency on such a fluctuating crop. And we help those cooperatives to become stronger, so they have a strong stand towards the buyers in the middle of that value chain. And that 5-step recipe for slave free cocoa, we share online, open source, on all those platforms for men in their midlife crisis, like you just mentioned. And for those few CEOs that still aren’t on social media, we also print on the inside of our wrappers. That’s why you’re all going home with chocolate.
And why do we do this? Because the next step in our strategy is that we wanna inspire other organizations to blatantly copy what we’re doing. Now we’re being copied like hell. I mean there is not one brand in The Netherlands that doesn’t have caramel sea salt milk chocolate. And we applaud that. And then we invite the CEOs of those companies that copy our bars, or our packaging, to come by. Normally we invite them on social media, because that ups the pressure. To come by, have a cup of coffee in the office, and not only copy the front end of our brand, but to start copying the back end of our brand, our business model and our value chain.
Now we’re really proud of the fact that Delicata, the Albert Heijn’s own brand chocolate, which is the biggest retailer in The Netherlands, is now also sourced according to those 5 principles that I just mentioned. And that’s great news. Why? Because the Delicata chocolate, and the Tony’s chocolate is both being made by Barry Callebaut. The biggest chocolate maker in the world. And that we reached such a scale at Callebaut, that there is not one single brand that now can hide by saying that they can’t do this, because we showed that it’s scalable and it’s doable.
Now, we could have become and NGO. We could have become an activist. We chose to become a commercial chocolate company and change that system from within. And some people might call us a social enterprise,which I debate more and more.Because, I just think that financially successful companies have the moral obligation to do something good for the society and the world around them. And I think that social enterprises should be allowed the opportunity of becoming financially successful as well. The difference is though that for us financial success isn’t a goal. For us, financial success is an essential mean, don’t get me wrong, we’re commercial as hell, but it’s an essential mean towards a goal. The goal is crystal clear: 100% slave free chocolate worldwide.
Now we always say we’re crazy about chocolate, but we’re serious about people. Now we’re pretty damn crazy about chocolate I can tell you. 15 years ago, you had 4 types of chocolate in Holland; white, milk, dark and something with nuts sprinkled into it. We have about 25 recipes now.
I don’t know whether you saw the limiteds that we launched 2 weeks ago. It has spice in them. So we have the kurkuma bar. We have one with pepper and chili in it. We have one with thyme and honeycomb. And my favorite bar is the one with cinnamon biscuit, which is like crack cocaine to a choco junkie like me.
Pretty damn crazy about chocolate. When you walk into our office, the first thing you see is the kitchen where Eva and Celine come up with the craziest recipes constantly. And it’s an open invitation. Come by our office here at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam. During office hours you need to remind in Amsterdam always. Because when you walk into our office, there’s a rule that you never leave the office without chocolate. So we have the happiest mail man in the world I can tell you.
Crazy about chocolate but we’re serious about people. And in our list of serious about people, number one, which is slightly narcissistic, is our own team.Because we are convinced we can only reach that humongous goal if we have the most engaged, most committed team imaginable. So we try to make this hard work, and we work hard on a tough subject, as fun as possible. So in your contract it says you can take home as much chocolate as you can physically carry, each and every day. To keep that slightly within boundaries you get free running shoes.
You know what a BMI is? A body mass index.We used to have a BMI bonus. That became politically slightly incorrect. So we turned that into the maintain your BMI bonus. So at least that year you didn’t go up in BMI. Now what else do we have? Not all employers like it when you become pregnant. We applaud it. So on the day of birth, when you work at Tony’s, you get a thousand euros cash in your hands. And if you make a child with somebody else within Tony’s, you each get a thousand euros cash in your hands. And seriously, if you then call your child Tony, you get another thousand euros. So it’s a business model to make Tony’s at Tony’s with Tony’s during work time.
So number 1: our team. Number 2, obviously, those 5,5 thousand farmers that we work directly with in Ghana and Ivory Coast.And before I start sounding like some marketing gorilla, honestly that’s not half a percent of the 2,5 million farms that we need to reach in Ghana an Ivory Coast alone. Number 3: consumers, number 4: the retailers that sell our chocolate bars, and number 5: the people that make our chocolate, so that’s Barry Callebaut. The people that make our bars and the people that make our packaging.
Now if you hear this story about how unequally divided the world of cocoa is. Isn’t it weird that chocolate bars for the last decades, or maybe even centuries always have this perfectly divided, almost Excel spreadsheet kinda shape? And real boring chocolate brands, I won’t mention any names, but they believe in purple colors, they might put their name on each and every block. Just in case the consumer might forget halfway through the bar what brand he or she had been eating all that time.
Now we thought that was a bit boring so we made our bars unequally divided. Now we had hell to pay I can tell you in the first weeks.The phone was ringing off the hook, internet was exploding, our inbox was full of complaints. The most epic one was this mother that sent me an e-mail saying, “My kids used to live in perfect harmony”. But why did we make these bars unequally divided? We tried to explain to all these people that complained, we tried to call them. Because our bars now tell the story of the unequally divided cocoa world in its purest form. Our bars become a discussion piece.
So if you come home with that bar of chocolate, if that bar of chocolate makes it home, then rest assured if somebody next to you, when you open that bar, doesn’t know the story of Tony’s, you’re bound to have to tell that story. Because they’ll ask you, why is that thing so annoyingly unequally divided? And why is that relevant? Because we never paid a single cent for paid media. We’ve never done any form of advertising, because we need a bit more time, a bit more than 18 minutes even, to get this story across. But to make that anecdote a little nicer for you to tell at home; not too many people know that we managed to hide the map of Western Africa in our bars.Showing the background where our bars come from and the strong farmers that we built these relationships with.
Now we’re convinced that by ourselves we can make our chocolate 100% slave free, but that is not what we are about. We are about together with consumers, together with retailers, together with governments and NGOs, and together with the rest of the industry make sure that all chocolate worldwide becomes 100% slave free.
Now let me leave you with a wise saying from a wise guy, Jean-Paul Sartre, who once said:
“Once you know something, you cannot unknown something, and once you know something and you’re aware, you’re responsible. And when you’re responsible it’s upon you to act, or not act”.
So next time you find yourself in the supermarket after a crappy week, looking for something to fix that week. Or maybe you’re in that supermarket and you had a great week and you’re looking for something to celebrate that week. You find yourself in front of the chocolate shelve or whatever shelve for that matter. Just realize that any purchase, any purchase you make in your life is a vote for the world you want to live in.
Thank you very much.