Tony’s Chocolonely safeguards its sustainability mission for sweeter success

03 August 2023 by Ruth Smith
blog author

​​Excitement surrounding Tony’s Chocolonely golden shares may be reminiscent of the fictional Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, but the Dutch chocolate firm’s rewards will see greater longevity and social impact.

The purpose-led company has developed a new legal governance structure called ‘Tony’s Mission Lock’ to ensure the company mission remains firmly set in stone with no amendments, unless agreed by specially appointed guardians.

Who is Tony’s Chocolonely?

Tony’s Chocolonely is one of the world’s fastest growing chocolate companies, with rapid expansion in North America and Europe.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you will be familiar with its Fairtrade-certified chunky bars and vibrant packaging.

The chocolate firm is ending exploitation in the cocoa industry across all chocolate (not just Tony’s products), by building solid relationships with cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. It pays farmers a higher living wage and they work together to prevent modern slavery and child labor to redefine best practice.

Based in the Netherlands, the B-Corp business wants to ensure that it remains as impactful as possible, staying true to its mission of eliminating child labor and all illegal labor throughout the entire chocolate supply chain.

Why introduce a mission lock?

This will give a golden share in the business to a separate, independent entity overseen by ‘mission guardians’ empowered to protect against any clause changes.

They will oversee the entire process and the trio of experts comprises Seth Goldman, Founder of Honest Tea and Chair of vegan brand Beyond Meat, Anne Wil Dijkstra, ex-Co-Captain of Tony’s, and British-Nigerian lawyer, social and climate activist and TV presenter Ikenna Azuike.

Golden shares will have no economic value, cannot be removed, and the trio can publicise any concerns in the company’s annual FAIR report and in national newspapers.

Douglas Lamont, Chief Executive at Tony’s Chocolonely, said: “It’s no secret that I’m a big supporter of purpose-led business. My firm belief is that any company, no matter its size, should place positive impact at the heart of its business.

“In my personal journey as a B-Corp leader, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work for - and with - truly purpose-driven companies and individuals that are paving the way to doing better business.

“But many times, we have witnessed mission-led businesses losing their way. Passionate founders sell down their shares and are replaced at the helm, over time things dissipate, and in the end the very foundation of the company, its mission, crumbles.

“That is why I’m extremely excited and proud to announce Tony’s Mission Lock.”

Which other innovators are disrupting the confectionary industry?

While Tony’s has assessed the treatment of cocoa farmers and works tirelessly to ban exploitation, another brand has innovated by removing the main ingredient entirely.

Food tech start-up WNWN (pronounced ‘win win’) claims to have created the world’s first plant-based cocoa-free chocolate bars that are also palm oil-free. This introduces an alternative solution to protecting ethical issues surrounding regular chocolate production, such as deforestation and habitat loss, as well as the labor exploitation concerns.

The London-based firm, founded by a former financier and global fermentation expert, aims to halt mass-produced cocoa for a more sustainable and ethical treat.

Ruth Smith, Senior Consultant – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, said: “To achieve complete sustainability in chocolate, all ingredients, practices, and related activity should be sustainable, which is hard to achieve.

“Seeing multiple different chocolate organizations including Tony's and WNWN take innovative approaches to this challenge now rather than later is great and essential to tackling the ongoing issues in chocolate - both environmentally and socially.”

Does this inspire you to safeguard your own company mission?

What are your views on embedding a structure, similar to Tony’s, to ensure your company mission remains on track for continued, effective social and environmental development? I welcome your perspective exploring other ways in which this can be successfully achieved without the mission being diluted over time.

Ruth is a Senior Consultant at Acre, supporting organizations across Consumer Goods and Retail, embedding Sustainability through consulting, team development and recruitment. This fast-growing sector is something that aligns closely with Ruth's core values, alongside her prior professional and educational experience.

Ruth has experience recruiting internationally in the Renewables and Clean Energy space, focused on the core value of Sustainability. She holds a 2:1 in BA Geography from the University of Brighton. This was specialized on Sustainable Development, EIA and Geographical Politics, which she applies daily to her practice in recruiting in the Sustainability space.