Unfair Competition case: “100% slave free” confectionery company linked to ingredient supplier facing child labour lawsuit

by Atty. Dr. Christian Seyfert, LL.M. (USA)

In today’s morally conscious consumer society, the trend has pointed towards more ethically produced products. For Dutch confectionery company, Tony’s Chocolonely, this has been a part of their mission, embracing 100% slave-free sourced chocolate. The company was founded by three Dutch journalists in 2005, after becoming aware of cocoa processing plants sourcing ingredients from plantations that used child labour and slavery.

However, they are now under fire for being tied to one of the world’s largest cocoa processors, Barry Callebaut, caught in a child labour lawsuit. The reckoning has led to the Amsterdam-based chocolatiers to be de-listed from Slave Free Chocolate, a grassroots organisation aimed at bringing awareness to child slavery in cocoa farms.

The backstory

On Friday, February 12th, 2021, a class-action lawsuit was launched by IRAdvocates, a human rights organization, in Washington DC by eight former child workers originally from Mali. The defendants named alongside Barry Callebaut are the major companies Olam, Cargill, Mondelez International, Hershey, Mars, Inc., and Nestle. The plaintiffs, now young adults, are seeking compensation for a variety of injustices, including forced labour, negligence, and emotional distress.

Tony’s rebuttal

After their listing was removed from the slavefreechocolate.org website, Tony’s Chocoloney has since addressed the controversy. In an , the company states:

Slavefreechocolate.org is not an official certification. When it comes to official certifications like Fairtrade and B-Corp, Tony’s passes with flying colours. …

The author of Slavefreechocolate.org, for whom we have much respect, does not currently feel that we fulfil all of the criteria to be included on their list. This is nothing new to us though – we haven’t been included on several lists of ethical chocolate suppliers in the past because of our decision to source cocoa directly from Ghana and Ivory Coast. Many feel that sourcing from those countries automatically means that there will be illegal labour and modern slavery in your supply chain. We have deliberately chosen this more difficult route for that reason – so we can change it.

 

Furthermore, they also tried to justify their relationship with Barry Callebaut.

Some critics believe we shouldn’t work with Barry Callebaut, one of the biggest cocoa processors in the world. But again, this decision is deliberate. Our mission is to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide. …

From the start, Barry Callebaut has believed in our mission and collaborated with us to set up fully segregated processing for our 100% traceable beans so they are never mixed with other beans. Working with Barry Callebaut allows us to further scale up our production and enables us to grow Tony’s Open Chain by processing the 100% traceable cocoa beans from our mission allies, too.

This statement is also reiterated on the German landing page that advertises their petition to hold companies accountable for child labour and modern slavery.
Just prior to the controversial news broke out, the company released four limited edition “look-alike” chocolate bars, designed look like some of the more famous chocolate bars that come from the other defending companies named in the suit.

Tony’s Chocoloney’s Head of Impact, Paul Schoenmakers, declared that this campaign is to raise awareness of the social problem still existing after the chocolate industry promised to eliminate child labour in their supply chain some 20 years ago:

We're not pointing fingers, because we realise that it is difficult to change. But we call out to all of them – the entire chocolate industry – to step it up and change their way of doing business.

What happens next?

As the lawsuit has only just begun, it will be only a matter of time until whether or not the former workers will receive their restitution, or if the cocoa companies can defend their fair working conditions.

And as for Tony’s Chocoloney, it will be up to consumers whether or not they continue to buy their products after reading the company’s stance despite the association. This will be a challenge for the over 400 in-store locations throughout Germany that sell their sweets.

 

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