How to become a brand activist. Follow Tony’s Chocolonley Example

Creating a movement through a brand is possible only when the people in the company, starting with the CEO, are involved in that cause. 

I’d love to tell you the story of a rather well-known journalist who has become a very successful entrepreneur, with a great purpose. I’m talking about Henk Jan, CEO of Tony’s Chocolonely, awarded the title of marketer of the year in 2017; not even he expected much success from a company born of a journalistic report. It all started in 2003 when during a documentary for Dutch television he discovered that most of the cocoa used by the big corporations was collected by exploiting child labor and investigating the main operating brands in the cocoa industry, he realized that he had touched one of the points industry pains. This is how the first chocolate slave free was born. 15,000 indignant consumers booked the chocolate bars in advance so the whole supply was sold in a day. After 10 years, the company had a turnover of € 9.6 million, so in 2015 it opened its first international office in the United States. To ensure that the chocolate they were buying was slave free, the company entered into an agreement to directly buy the cocoa beans from the farmers by paying them a figure 25% higher than the average so that they could fight against the slavery of children. In 2017/2018, Tony’s Chocolonely recorded sales of around 55 million euros.

Here’s what business with purpose means : the founders started this adventure to meet the goal that the company still has today: freeing the chocolate sector from slavery

Their motto is “Crazy About chocolate Serious about People” and to give words a feedback with facts Tony’s followed a road map in three steps:

  • Create awareness – since 2005, in particular for consumers and retailers to be aware of the existing inequalities in the cocoa sector
  • Lead by example  – from 2012, try to show the other players of the industry that you could have commercial success without exploiting child labor
  • inspire to Act  – today, finding partners within the Industry but also politicians, non-governmental organizations and scientists to work together towards change

So here we are: a true brand activist , born to change the status quo, he never gave up his initial mission, which was the engine of his commercial success.

Not surprisingly, Tony’s is a B Corp [1] , a company that voluntarily undertakes to achieve and maintain certain environmental and social performances and is committed to Stakeholders, rather than to shareholders.

For Tony’s Chocolonley the road is a clear path, and the communication of the results achieved is effective, starting from their trustworthy [2] (because verified by different agencies) and funny sustainability report (yes, I really wrote funny ) of which I quote just one of the many choices and results:

“We could have chosen the path of least resistance. We could have just said “our chocolate is 100% slave free, pinky promised.” We could have started our own fully controlled farm. But we did none of the above. Why? Because of ab-so-lute-ly nothing would have changed for the 2.5 million exploited farmers and their families in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Zip, zilch, nada.”[3]

No doubt arises, after reading the 69 pages of reports that Tony’s is ” an impact organization that sells chocolate and is trying to change the chocolate industry from within.” [4]

Indeed, one wonders how the big players of the cocoa industry can ignore the appeal of this exceptional (because it represents an exception) company to ‘copy’ their model: “We have not convinced any large company in the industry to copy our game rules. We note that interest is on the rise, but as of 1 October 2018 we have not yet seen any ‘white smoke’ [5] .

[1] a certification spread in 71 countries and 150 different sectors, issued to companies by  B Lab , an   international non-profit organization.

[2] Disclaimer: this is not fake news! We’ve thoroughly checked all the facts and all of them from reliable, independent sources. These include the Global Slavery Index, Tulane University, True Price and the Cocoa Barometer, which monitors the state of affairs in chocolate land every other year. And we’ve also asked PWC to assess the 12 non-financial key performance indicators. Want to know more about the facts? Give us a call or send us an email!


[4]The chocolate industry from the inside is an organization that sells chocolate and is trying to change.

[5] We have not yet persuaded large players in the industry to copy our rules of the game. We can see that there is no white smoke yet, there is a lack of any figures reviewed by PwC.

Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.