Tony’s Chocolonely: a holistic approach to sustainable chocolate

Founded in 2005, Tony’s Chocolonely has a net annual revenue of more than 150 million euros. The company is determined to end child labour and modern slavery in chocolate supply chains. Its holistic approach tackles household livelihood issues, ensures its products are deforestation free, and extends to recruiting other businesses as mission champions and processing partners. A ‘golden share’, held independently, guarantees the business will stay on track.

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Cocoa beans inside pods

Cocoa beans inside pods (Photo: Tony’s Chocolonely)

Tony’s Chocolonely was founded in 2005 by journalists who were determined to end child labour and modern slavery in chocolate supply chains. The company also firmly believes that there is no social justice on a broken planet. 

Cocoa farmers are some of the worst affected by global climate change as it directly impacts their cocoa crop yield and quality. The company commits to making sure its supply chain is 100% free of deforestation and aims to reduce its carbon footprint by at least 42% by 2030, while offsetting its entire carbon footprint.

Recognising that top-down approaches such as global certification and labelling fall short in eliminating child labour and to ensure sustainability in supply chains, Tony’s set out to address the root causes of inequality and deforestation throughout its supply chains using five sourcing principles. They are: 

  1. 100% traceable beans
  2. Paying a higher price
  3. Supporting farmers to be in a stronger position
  4. Long-term purchase agreements, and 
  5. Support to improve bean quality and productivity.

Holistic approach to tackle root causes of child labour 

Tony’s trades directly with nine farmers’ cooperatives, sourcing beans from 17,740 smallholder farmers. Across the chocolate industry, roughly half (46.7%) of children in cocoa-growing households work on producing the crop. Within Tony’s supply chain, that drops to 10.5%, and has fallen to 4.4% within the cooperatives where Tony’s has its longest working relationships. 

Working closely with its partner cooperatives, the company implements the Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS). Each cooperative has professionally trained community facilitators – often farmers themselves – who visit each household at least once a year to raise awareness of child labour concerns with parents, and to identify cases.

Where child labour is found, Tony’s tackles root causes. The company might support children back into school (such as by helping secure birth certificates or providing school kits or bicycles). For older children, the company may provide vocational training programmes through the Chocolonely Foundation, an independent entity funded by a 1% dedicated levy on Tony’s annual turnover. 

Households are given safer tools for opening cocoa pods and families with multiple children working are helped to access other income-generating activities.

Tracking supply and paying a fair price

The company buys beans from cooperatives and uses a digital ‘Bean Tracker’ platform, that identifies which farmers supplied what percentage of each shipped container. This makes the supply entirely traceable. 

To guarantee that there is zero deforestation in Tony’s supply chain, all farms the company works with, no matter their size, are GPS-polygon mapped. The partner cooperatives own the mapping data and use it to guide decision making. The company also provides financial support to help farmers plant shade trees for cocoa and invest in other agroforestry practices to increase quality and yield.

In recent years, global commodity prices for cocoa tumbled, cutting farmers’ earnings by up to 40%. Until prices recover, Tony’s pays a two-part price premium: the fair trade premium, and a Tony’s premium to bridge the gap between the legal minimum farmgate price and the Living Income Reference Price, adjusted each year according to independent data.

Man cutting cocoa pods from a tree.

A farmer cutting cocoa pods (Photo: Tony's Chocolonely)

Building long-term partnerships with farmers 

The company views cocoa farmers as the experts, and works in partnership with them to understand the social and environmental contexts they live in. Tony’s then invests in tailored training and long-term support for its cooperatives and farmers, including finding new international markets, building organisational capacity and professionalising farmers’ groups.

It helps farmers diversify and improve cocoa quality and productivity through coaching groups and expanded agriculture services delivered by cooperatives. Infrastructure improvements, funded by the Chocolonely Foundation, ensure that children are growing up where there are schools, where water is accessible and healthcare is available.

Long-term relationships are essential. Tony’s has five-year minimum purchasing agreements, so that farmers know they will be able to buy new plants for a better harvest or invest in equipment or training. 

And that investment feeds into the final sourcing principle: support for crop quality and productivity. Many small-holder farmers only produce 30% to 40% of the potential yield. Tony’s wants to source beans from farmers that are empowered to be efficient and profitable. Recent statistics show it has boosted cocoa income by 51% for its farmers in Cote D’Ivoire.

Reinventing corporate governance to stay on track

Current investors include Verlinvest, Jam Jar investment companies, and Genuine Chocolate, the holding company of the former chief executive officer. In 2023, the company gave a golden share (which is a non-economic stake) in Tony’s to a fully independent legal entity called Tony’s Mission Lock. 

This independent legal structure, overseen by three independent mission guardians, has the power to prevent any legal changes to the definition of Tony’s mission, its five sourcing principles or any other mission-related articles. 

Quality control

Quality control (Photo: Tony's Chocolonely)

Transforming a whole industry

Tony’s Chocolonely is B Corp and Fairtrade certified. As well as taking responsibility for its own supply chains, the company challenges inequality throughout the chocolate industry. Its vision is not just ethical chocolate for its own customers, but ethical chocolate full stop. 

Tony’s showcases sustainable and responsible business that is also profitable and can be scaled up to transform the whole industry. It seeks allies among other chocolate companies and cocoa users through commitment to the Tony’s Open Chain purchasing model. 

For example, dehydrated food producer Huel, cheese cake brand Pleese, Aldi’s Choceur Choco Changer bar, and Ben and Jerry’s Chocolatey Love A-Fair line are among a growing list of Mission Allies, while B-Corp certified NATRA and Baronie & Cémoi have become Tony’s Open Chain processors. It all adds up to a much sweeter future.

Further reading


Head and shoulders photo of Xiaoting Hou Jones.

Xiaoting Hou Jones ([email protected]) is a senior researcher (biodiversity) with IIED's Natural Resources group.