Singer Pharrell Williams strikes key social justice partnership with Tony’s Chocolonely at digital fair

Ethically-founded chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely hosted its 8th annual stakeholder event with a digital fair, unveiling a new partnership with singer Pharrell Williams for a new chocolate series highlighting social inequality, writes Neill Barston.

The Digital FAIRground livestreamed showcase focused on the company’s annual report, and also included a number of keynote talks seen by a global audience.

As the Dutch business explained, the highlight of the evening was a key announcement of a long-term partnership between the chocolate brand and Pharrell Williams (pictured below). Their joint venture is founded on a shared vision of ending systemic inequality and mutually supporting one another’s missions: for Tony’s, eliminating illegal child labour and modern slavery from the cocoa supply chain; for Williams, it is in closing the opportunity and wealth gap in the US.

To kick off the collaboration between the change-making duo, Tony’s Chocolonely announced their support of Williams’ Black Ambition program: a non-profit initiative to level the playing field and foster innovation in underrepresented entrepreneurs in the US. The Black Ambition bar, the first major product of the long-term partnership, will be made using Tony’s 5 Sourcing Principles for ethical, slave-free chocolate, and proceeds will go towards funding the Black Ambition program.

As a B-Corp, Fairtrade-certified chocolate-maker that puts social impact before profit, the company explained that going beyond certifications to make chocolate 100% slave-free remains its core priority, not just for its own products, but the entire industry.

The company was founded in 2005 by three journalists from the Dutch TV show ‘Keuringsdienst van Waarde’ after they discovered that the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers were buying cocoa from plantations that used illegal child labour and modern slavery.

As Tony’s Head of Marketing Thecla Shaeffer, who has partnered with Pharrell in the past, explains, “Impact should be harnessed using the connections we already have. It’s about tackling the things we can change with the resources we have now. The Black Ambition bar encapsulates Tony’s belief that the root causes of inequality in the US and in West Africa stem from colonial and post-colonial power structures. Creating fair opportunities in people’s everyday lives is one huge way to make systemic change. Pharrell and all of us at Tony’s understand that.”

Raising the bar for social change

The theme for Tony’s FAIR 2020 – Let’s raise the bar for social change – was inspired by the global challenges of 2020, which proved humankind’s resilience and potential to adapt, find hope and create opportunities by working together. As Thecla Schaeffer, Head of Marketing at Tony’s Chocolonely, explains “This year Tony’s FAIR was a celebration of the social change we have achieved and can still achieve, when we share a powerful vision and collaborate on action to get us there. Like the power of one person signing our petition for human rights legislation that holds companies accountable for abuse in their supply chain, and how that power is amplified each time another person does the same.”

In the spirit of inspiring collective impact, Tony’s FAIR invited an international line-up of social changemakers to share their visions on creating a fairer future together. Hosting the evening was Sophie Hilbrand, who introduced speakers including ‘doughnut economist’ Kate Raworth, Utopia for Realists author Rutger Bregman, founder of Chobani and the Tent Project for Refugees Hamdi Ulukaya, spoken-word artist and activist Akwasi, and actor and United Nations Agricultural Development Goodwill Ambassador Idris Elba- the latter recently produced a video for Tony’s chocolate highlighting the cause of social justice.

Ghanaian filmmaker David Boanuh also teased his new documentary-film collabouration with Tony’s Chocolonely, Golden Seeds, where cocoa farmers reclaim their narrative to bring a Ghanaian perspective to the world. Afropunk band TSHEGUE, who created the track for the Tony’s Chocolonely manifesto film earlier this year, also performed their new track Mais.

In addition to the live programme, guests were able to explore a digital FAIRground, which remains open to the public to watch aftermovies of the live event and learn more about Tony’s mission to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate. FAIRground attractions also include a chocolate shop, Tony’s TV, and a call to sign the petition to make ending illegal child labour and modern slavery the law.

The company’s petition on child labour has now been signed by more than 20,000 people, and can be viewed here


Tony’s report

In an address as part of the company’s annual report, Henk Jan Beltman Chief Chocolate Officer expressed optimism about the company’s ongoing work in West Africa, supporting farmers within the cocoa supply chain. While he acknowledged the scale of the task at hand, he felt its initiatives were making inroads, and also spoke of the need to engage with wider social equality, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

He said: “Looking at inclusivity and equity. We, as a society, don’t dare to enter the discussion about Black Lives Matter. We are ducking away. We’d rather talk about the risks of Covid-19 infections than about why millions of people all over the world take it to the streets to demonstrate against extreme police violence and systemic racism.

“In the Netherlands the BLM discussion centres around the firm words about Black Pete (Zwarte Piet, a racist black face caricature) by the Amsterdam-Ghanese rapper Akwasi. Or about the ‘vandalistic PR stunt’ by Tony’s Chocolonely at the statue of J.P. Coen on the corner of Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate Bar at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. For the latter, I was in jail for four hours, to my horror. As an international impact company we do not walk away from our responsibility. Change is difficult, but necessary. In my opinion we have to stand up together against (racial) inequality, Black Pete really needs to go. Black Pete is really not ok, sorry that we are only now taking a clear stand on this.

“Take care of each other and our planet, please, we only have her on loan. And in spite of everything, we, Tony’s Chocolonely, are grateful. Even though we’ve had a few Covid-19 cases, Team Tony’s is healthy.”





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