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ASU students spread Tony's Chocolonely's mission for slavery-free chocolate

Student representatives talk chocolate, sustainability and changing the industry through Tony's Chocolonely and its mission


Tony’s Chocolonely's mission is to end illegal child labor and modern slavery in the cocoa industry in West Africa.

For the past two years, four ASU student representatives have brought the mission and products of Tony's Chocolonely to ASU's campus through the company's Collegiate Changemaker Program. The Dutch chocolate company's mission is to end illegal child labor and modern slavery within the cocoa industry, specifically in West Africa.

Tony's Chocolonely first came to ASU in the middle of the pandemic. Stephanie Iller Drachman, the company's senior U.S. experiential marketing producer, said student representatives had to be creative and resilient when coming up with different ideas to spread the company's message.

This semester, the team has hosted events like its first mindfulness and meditation night and Tony's Talks, where representatives talk about Tony's mission and give out chocolate. The company also has Collegiate Changemaker programs at Columbia University, Spellman College, UC Berkeley and NYU.

"One thing that really resonated with me when I first became a Tony's Collegiate Changemaker was the principle that chocolate is a luxury," said Caitlyn Finnegan, an ASU graduate still completing the year-long program. "Yet, this luxury that we enjoy is causing extreme poverty in Africa and countries that produce chocolate. We eat it without thinking about the real harm and danger that what we're eating is causing and inflicting on others."

A survey of cocoa growing areas in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire by the Walk Free Global Slavery Index found an estimated 30,000 people were in forced labor in that industry between 2013 and 2017.

According to Tony's Chocolonely's 2020-2021 annual report, the company hasn't found any cases of modern slavery in its supply chain, but does find cases of child labor. According to the report, "finding cases of child labor in the supply chain means change is happening. We want to find the children performing illegal labor. Only then can we work with the families to address the problem."

The report said 275 cases of child labor were found at the company's longer-term partner cocoa growing co-ops, and 1,426 cases were found at the two new co-ops onboarded by the company. In the 2020-21 year, the company remediated 366 cases of child labor within its partner cooperatives.

Effective remediation means permanently removing children from the circumstances that led to child labor and conducting safety checks in the following cocoa season, the report said.

Tony's Chocolonely has five sourcing principles to "ensure long-term change and more equal business relationships with suppliers in West Africa." The company looks for traceable cocoa beans through trading directly and "on an equal footing." It also pays higher prices to create living incomes for farmers and makes five-year commitments to sustain income security. It aims to strengthen cocoa cooperatives through training in professionalism and sustainability, and investing in agriculture knowledge and skills.

The Collegiate Changemakers' role in achieving the company's goals is to share the company's mission and raise awareness about issues in the cocoa industry.

In 2021, the ASU team hosted a movie night with s'mores made from Tony's chocolate at Pedal Haus and hosted an Easter egg hunt where each egg had a scannable QR code that asked recipients questions about Tony’s. If they answered correctly, they were entered into a raffle to win Tony's chocolates.

The students' goals are to talk to college-aged students about "thinking differently about how you consume, taking a different approach to doing business, and what needs to be at the core of a business for social good," Drachman said.

The company is also in conversations with Starship, the company behind the autonomous food delivery robots on campus, to add the delivery of Tony’s chocolates as an option some time after spring break.

READ MORE: Robots bring contactless food delivery to campus 

"Part of the beauty of working with an impact-driven company is that as long as you can find a way to tie the mission into whatever audience or group you're talking with, you can usually find a way to make people care about it and recognize its importance," said Jackson Schiefelbein, a senior studying sustainability and changemaker for Tony's. "I think I've learned a lot about how to apply my degree in sustainability in the real world."

For his thesis project, Schiefelbein is currently designing a study abroad course, focusing on Tony's Chocolonely and sustainability, that would take students to Amsterdam, the location of the company's headquarters.

Schiefelbein wants to explore how businesses and companies can achieve sustainability, using Tony's as a case study with academic content and a trip to learn about the company's culture, leadership and day-to-day interactions.

He said he is creating modules, working with the ASU study abroad office, figuring out financials and collaborating with Tony's Chocolonely employees to create the best experience possible.

"I like supporting Tony's mission because they're a company that's founded first on achieving that mission rather than, like, making money," Schiefelbein said. "Of course they need money in order to achieve that mission, but they're first thinking about how to end slavery, the supply chains and the chocolate industry as a means of making money instead of the other way around, and I think that's really cool and a unique way of thinking about things."

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Lauren KobleyCommunity Reporter

Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times. 

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