The path to slave-free chocolate: “An equal society is essential”

The mission of Tony’s Chocolonely cannot be missed. It is stated on each bar in large letters: Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free. “The word together is sacred”, emphasizes Henk Jan Beltman, Chief Chocolate Officer. “I am a huge believer in cooperation. You can cover more ground individually, but you won’t make much change. If you want to change the world – which is what I want to do – then you need other organizations and people.”

Tony’s Chocolonely not only wants to make its own chocolate slave-free, but all the chocolate in the world. Beltman: “It started in 2004, when Teun van de Keuken unveiled that children do unpaid work on many cocoa plantations in the consumer affairs program Keuringsdienst van Waarde. Teun founded Tony’s and raised awareness in the Netherlands of this abuse. That was an important first step towards slave-free chocolate. If people know something is wrong, you can convince them to change it.”

In 2010, Henk Jan Beltman took a majority stake in Tony’s Chocolonely. He focused on cooperation in the cocoa industry. “I want to set a good example with our chocolate and show all the companies in the chocolate world that a transparent and honest cocoa trade can also be successful. It would be great if other companies would follow our example. Not the chocolate wrapper or the recipe, but the content and the results.”

The bank connects

“We do like a powerful mission, and that of Rabobank is quite powerful: ‘Growing a better world together’. I think it’s cool that Rabobank has the courage to make this statement and recognizes that it has a responsibility in the food industry. Thanks to the bank’s position, it can connect companies and create positive change.”

“And that’s why I am a customer and a fan of the Rabobank. We work together in the Netherlands and abroad. A number of farmers, cooperatives and traders with whom we do business receive support from Rabobank Foundation and the Rabo Rural Fund. Thanks to their projects, they strengthen the position of these small players in the chocolate industry.”

Working on a transparent chain

“The industry has now been set up so that only the big manufacturers earn well. They keep the purchase price of cocoa as low as possible. As a result, cocoa farmers live in poverty and look for the cheapest possible labor. That leads to child labor and child slavery. Combating this starts with the traceability of the beans and the transparency of the chain. We buy our beans directly from cooperatives and therefore pay a higher price, which enables them to achieve a living wage. We can say which farmers delivered the cocoa for our couverture. We enter into long-term partnerships with them and collaborate on quality and productivity.”

Money is not a goal

For Tony’s, money is only a means to an end, says Beltman. “Many other companies have elevated earning money to a goal in itself. That leads to skewed relationships and it increases the gap between rich and poor. In our case, money helps in the pursuit of fair working conditions.”

“There are times when the cooperation with the farmers is difficult. Child labor still exists, including on the plantations of cooperatives we do business with. We do everything we can to stop it, but it’s very difficult because you can’t just give farmers extra money and then tell them how to do their job. Equal cooperation is an essential component here. If we ensure that farmers have a living wage, we enable them to make the right decisions on their own. Then they can sense and take responsibility themselves.”

Together, a greater impact

This is how Tony’s Chocolonely works towards that slave-free chocolate they have dreamed of step by step. Beltman: “It may sound arrogant or naive but I really believe that we will succeed. Not alone, but together with all the players in our chain. I’m convinced that if you address people as individuals, you can convince them to contribute to the mission. Slowly but surely, the large chocolate giants will also start to make a move and assume their responsibility.”


Rabobank Foundation

Office Address Croeselaan 18
3521 CB Utrecht
The Netherlands
Postal Address P.O. Box 17100, UC 079
3500 HG Utrecht
The Netherlands
Telephone +31 (0)30 216 2333