Stevia producer PureCircle has been hit by a customs ban in the US amid claims its artificial sweetener is produced using convict labour.
US Customs and Border Protection said all shipments of PureCircle stevia extracts and derivatives would be seized upon entering the country. Coca-Cola is among the companies PureCircle supplies.
Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner at US Customs and Border Protection, said: “It is imperative that companies examine their supply chains to understand product sourcing and the labour used to generate their products.”
While all PureCircle stevia products will be detained at ports, importers of detained shipments are are given a three-month window to demonstrate the merchandise was not produced with forced labour.
In a statement PureCircle said the US order was based on false allegations that its stevia had been produced by forced labour at Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Group Baoanzhao Agricultural and Trade LLC, but it had not sourced its stevia from this company.
PureCircle, which is based in Malaysia and describes itself as the world’s leading producer of stevia, said it was providing documentation to verify this and said it was committed to human rights and the proper and fair use of labour.
“As such, we have an explicit policy prohibiting use of prison or forced labour in any part of our business,” said the company.
“We have been certified by independent auditors to ensure compliance with the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit which requires that there is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour used.”
The company’s shares nosedived upon news of the seizure though they began recovering after PureCircle responded to the allegations.
The worldwide stevia market was estimated to be worth $347m 2014 and is expected to reach $565.2m by 2020.
The sweetener, which is native to South America, is used in food products and beverages such as Coca-Cola Life.