Meet the “People’s Champion”, Cardew Jackson-Cole

2 Aug 2022

Environment & Ethics

Ingredients Buyer & Chair of Hotel Chocolat’s Anti-Racism Group.

Cardew leans back in his chair and smiles broadly. Fresh from an all-expenses paid trip to our little slice of paradise in St Lucia – his prize for being named Employee of the Year – one can easily imagine how a smile might be close at hand. But, while 2 weeks in the Caribbean would be enough to inspire tranquillity in most of us, it’s not the reason for his expression during our Zoom call. At least not directly.

It’s the same gentle, gracious grin that makes regular appearances during the fortnightly Anti-Racism Group meetings that Cardew chairs, and throughout his day in the Procurement team at Hotel Chocolat’s Alpha distribution centre.

He’s gentle by nature; a calming presence emitting a certain placidity. Thoughtful, rational and contemplative, he doesn’t reach for the hyperbole many might, whether discussing the majesty of St Lucia’s geography or complex, distressing tales of racism in modern society.

Now you’ve experienced Rabot St Lucia, try and put it into words for those of us that haven’t (yet) been. What were your first impressions, what have you enjoyed the most?

My first impressions were absolutely brilliant – as soon as you arrive you see the Pitons (the mountain range overlooking our Rabot farm and hotel); those views are breath-taking. The farm, the hotel, the people who work there – there is so much pride, everyone is so welcoming and the location is stunning. I found it a very calming experience.

What did you particularly enjoy in your first few days?

Outside the farm, the beach is nearby and there’s a small town where you can experience life in the community. We took the sunset boat tour around the island and attended the St Lucian carnival. There are only about 200 thousand people on the island; it’s like a version of Notting Hill carnival, but even more energised, more authentic and so celebratory. We heard lots of soca music!

We (my partner and I) also did a drive round the island, where we tried the local cuisine – things like local casava, saltfish and fresh bread. I’d also recommend taking a sulphur bath in the hot springs, and going on a rum distillery tour; you can taste all the types of rum that’s distilled on the island. There is street food everywhere, just on the wayside. It’s how the locals mostly eat – not in restaurants but freshly cooked food on the side of the road. In fact, my favourite food on holiday was probably the fresh saltfish and bread you could get on the kerb. It was so fresh, so delicious. I really enjoyed that.

There was a new drink I discovered, too: rum and coconut water. It’s super fresh and perfect for the weather.

You turned 40 while out there. How did you celebrate?

It was really nice. My partner organised a sunset boat-ride. He tried to make it a surprise… I knew something was coming, but not exactly what it would be! It was great. We rode along the coast of St Lucia from Souffre for 2 hours – I didn’t realise there were dolphins! We saw all sorts on the way: I’d never seen a bat cave. I came away with lots of memories.

By comparison, on my 30th I went on a road trip to Scotland via Newcastle, Edinburgh, and the way back via Carlisle.

Now you’re back at work in our St Neots distribution centre. Tell us about your role.

A quick insight into what I do every day is I manage the day-to-day relationship between Hotel Chocolat and our suppliers of ingredients – anything that goes into our chocolates. The right partners with the right ingredients at the right price.

What are the criteria?

Most of what we do starts with ideation and NPD (new product development). From there we decide what we need to fulfil the production brief. So, if a new product comes to us, we establish what type of ingredients are needed. Then we assess whether our current suppliers can help, or if we need to look further afield. We need to make a business case for us to pursue the product development. It’s not just cost, it’s the quality of ingredients; whether they can be delivered to our very high standards.

We use nothing artificial, ever. This can make life more difficult but it’s something we are committed to.

Another criteria is the ethics and sustainability of each supplier – we look at whether they measure their ESG (Environmental & Social Governance) impact, for example? Do they have eco-protocols? Are they working towards similar goals?

Our Director of Procurement, Emma Peacock, has a stringent requirement for carbon emissions for each supplier.

Are you a tough negotiator?

I want to say yes! Negotiation is tricky – you don’t want to give away what you’re looking for, so you try and keep your feelings to yourself and your demeanour closed.

How long have you been at HC?

Gosh – it’s been two and a half years now. I joined in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. As you can imagine it was a strange time. I only just got to meet my new colleagues before we all started to work remotely. It was quite intense.

My role has changed a lot. When I joined, I was a material controller in what was then the Supply team. This team was split and part of it joined Procurement. I spent a year and a bit doing materials control and moved into Procurement.We’ve seen some interesting changes. Of course, we have eradicated Palm Oil from our range. There is also a lot more focus on vegan-friendliness.

We source over 400 types of ingredients from 15 countries, so there are always new challenges to overcome.

How did it feel to be named Employee of the Year?

It was shocking! You almost feel like you should have known about it beforehand. I was surprised, It was only when Matt Margereson (Hotel Chococolat’s Chief Operating Officer) read out who was going to win that I realised ‘hang on, this could be me’! One of the best feelings was that it was very nice to be recognised by my peers. It was such a great feeling to be voted for by the people I work with every day.

Tell us about your experience with the Anti Racism Group… how and why was it created?

I joined off the back of the killing of George Floyd; I joined about 2 months in. It was created as a forum for Hotel Chocolat staff to share their experiences and views in a safe space. At that time particularly, conversations around race were happening all across the world. We felt that we needed to check ourselves against some of the benchmarks that were being discussed globally.

Certainly at the time it sparked a continual review and a constant lens over the policies we have. We asked the business to really consider things: are our policies really inclusive…and how inclusive are they? Can we test them? Can we challenge them? It’s a constant journey. There’s no start and end, it’s constant evolution.

One of the things I’m proud of is that the ARG has triggered a fundamental change of the use of language – it encouraged us to actually review the language we use; whether in publications, cafes, hotels, internally – anywhere. Language is reflective of our thoughts. It’s an important awareness.

I feel that Hotel Chocolat is more culturally aware than when I first started. We make a much more conscious effort to celebrate different cultural events and landmarks, and consider how they might affect our colleagues and customers.

An ongoing challenge with the ARG is momentum. It is so important; groups like ours can lose momentum if they don’t feel listened to. I regularly speak to Matt Hammond (Head of People) or Angus (Thirlwell, CEO) – it’s very important to have that clear link right to the top of the business.

I look at what the ARG and feel it’s really clear, what we are trying to do. However it’s also difficult to make people outside the ARG see the importance of it. They might think “I’m not racist, so what’s this to do with me”. But you’ve got to be actively anti-racist, not just passive. {When you’re anti-racist} you’re an active ally; things won’t surprise you when they happen and you’ll be better prepared to react appropriately. People sometimes get shocked and surprised, they might not notice intolerance or inappropriate behavior or comments, or they might ignore it or not know how to respond or support a colleague. But if you’re an active ally you already know what intolerance can look like and what can happen… and you’re better prepared to be an ally.

I want to see the ARG become even more relevant, engaging and impactful with the wider Hotel Chocolat family.