But what most of us don’t realize is that 70 percent of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa plantations in West Africa where children, and sometimes even victims of modern slavery, are forced to work under illegal and dangerous conditions, according to a report from Tulane University and the U.S. Department of Labor.
After uncovering that bitter truth while producing a television show more than a decade ago, Dutch investigative journalist Teun “Tony” van de Keuken and two fellow journalists went on to found Tony’s Chocolonely, based on the principle of producing only “slave-free chocolate”—and influencing other chocolate makers to do the same.
At six partner cooperatives in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, Tony’s Chocolonely works with 5,500 independent farmers to improve their yields using sustainable farming practices. It also provides farmers with agricultural education while paying them a living wage so they can hire adult workers and send their kids to school.
Those business practices, as well as its sumptuous products, have served Tony’s Chocolonely well. The Amsterdam-based company has maintained a 50 percent annual growth rate since its launch in 2005, despite paying a $175 premium (above published “fair trade” prices) for every metric ton of cocoa beans it purchases. Since 2012, Tony’s Chocolonely has grown its revenue nearly ninefold, to €44.9 million (U.S. $55.3 million) in 2017.
But such rapid growth hasn’t come without its challenges. As Tony’s Chocolonely increased its revenue, the company quickly outgrew the myriad spreadsheets its sales and finance people used to keep track of business. Mistakes and rework were common. “Maintaining spreadsheets meant our salespeople were spending most of their time fixing errors, not selling chocolate,” says sales “Choconator” Frits Snel.
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