HomeBussinessTony's Chocolonely boss on why purpose-led innovation could be the future for UK...

Tony’s Chocolonely boss on why purpose-led innovation could be the future for UK business


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Douglas Lamont, chief executive of anti-slavery chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely

Jennifer Sieg sits down with the boss of Tony’s Chocolonely in an exclusive interview to discuss how a ‘purpose-led ‘economy could benefit the future of UK businesses — big and small.

Nearly half a century ago, the American Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” – and the phrase has stuck around for quite some time.

However, the boss of anti-slavery chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely has told Ambition A.M. that now is the time for the money-driven mindset to finally change.

Douglas Lamont joined the leading chocolate-making company — which was founded in 2005 by three Dutch journalists investigating forced labour on cocoa plantations in West Africa — in 2022 as chief executive with a mission to change the way big industry players view purpose-led innovation.

It’s one thing starting as an entrepreneurial business, starting as a scale-up, but showing that this model works at all scales is how we really drive change.

Douglas Lamont

In January, a report from charity Regenerate, which was backed by bosses of Virgin, Greggs and the London School of Economics, suggested a “purpose-led” economy could add £149bn to UK GDP – a seven per cent boost in economic output.

Even still, the chocolate-making boss said: “The debate is getting ridiculously polarised.”

“I think we’ve all seen enough signals to say that the model we’ve got today is causing us existential problems, whether that’s in the cost of living crisis, social injustice, or planetary breakdown,” he added.

“Just because somebody wrote it in a book in the 1940s and said this is how business should be run, I think there’s enough evidence to say maybe we should review that model and change that model.”

What is the return on purpose?

Critics are quick to dismiss campaigns advocating for this kind of legislative change, Lamont said, including the Better Business Act established in 2021 with an aim to change the 2006 Companies Act that sets out the responsibilities of UK company directors.

So far, over 2,600 businesses have signed on to support responsibilities that include considering social and environmental impact with shareholder returns.

“There’s some loud voices who like it how it is because they’re making all the profits in the very short term and they’re not caring or thinking about the long term impact that that model is having on society,” Lamont said. 

He added: “It doesn’t change the legislative position here at all… you’re saying to directors ‘you have a responsibility for your company to decide how you balance profits, people and planet’, we’re not setting out a whole series of exactly how you do it.

“All you have to do is demonstrate that you’ve gone through a process of thinking about how you do get those things in balance.”

Can good business mean big business?

Lamont said building a successful, profit-making, and purpose-led business isn’t a milestone that is reached overnight, which is why campaigns like Better Business exist.

Take Tony’s Chocolonely, for example — what started off as three ambitious founders with “no resources” or “no experience” in the industry is now a leading brand in purpose-led innovation.

Start small, be bold in your ambition, walk towards that ambition, but you don’t need to do everything in year one or day one.

Douglas Lamont

Of the thousands of signatures already, the Tony’s Chocolonely boss said there are companies from all over the UK — big and small — advocating for the change.

“Why I’m so passionate about this Better Business Act and Better Business Day is to raise awareness that actually, I want to champion the really brave leaders who are the one’s saying ‘sh*t, we’re over here, how do we move our business over here?’” Lamont said. 

For what he sees as a way to help boost the overall UK economy, research has also suggested a “purpose-led” economy could introduce a £86bn increase in capital investment.

“I’m a big believer in capitalism, I’m a big believer in that that’s the right way forward – that business leaders should solve the problems – but they have to do that responsibly,” Lamont said. 

“The framework of thinking has to be how do we balance profitability with our people with impacts on the planet and take accountability for all of those things and be held to account,” he added.

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