German sweet maker Haribo has announced it is investigating allegations that slave labour is being used on plantations in Brazil, which supply it with carnauba wax.
Carnauba wax is used as a coating agent to stop Haribo’s confections sticking together. The company sources wax primarily harvested and produced on farms in Brazil.
German public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk investigated conditions on carnauba producing farms in the documentary programme ARD-Markencheck.
In the report, which aired last week, workers on farms which supply Haribo, were forced to work in conditions amounting to modern day slavery.
The report said workers harvesting the palm leaves used to make carnauba wax had been forced to sleep outside, denied access to clean drinking water and were paid just $12 per day.
Responding to the report, a Haribo spokesman said the company was shocked over the reports and would be launching an independent investigation into the allegations.
“We have tasked a group of independent, accredited and certified auditors with conducting a full investigation of our carnauba wax supply chain and are currently awaiting the findings of the investigation,” he said.
The family-owned company warned that if human rights abuses were identified, it would review existing supplier relationships for carnauba wax.
“For Haribo, social and ethical labour standards are non-negotiable as far as our suppliers, preliminary suppliers and their farms are concerned—that has always been our position,” it said.
“We will be engaging in deeper conversations with our suppliers and their preliminary suppliers to ensure all of our partners consistently meet the highest standards, and that process is well underway.”
However, while Marilyn Croser, director of the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), praised Haribo for its “swift” response to the revelations, she suggested that more could have been done to prevent such issues arising in the first place.
In its statement on modern slavery, required by companies operating in the UK under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, Haribo outlined its corporate social responsibility policies to tackle slavery and identified raw materials as a high-risk area.
“Raw materials and packaging where farming or mining exists (gelatine, sugar, glucose, palm oil as examples) are known to be at risk from the use of slavery. Our group procurement team ensure that suppliers are selected based on their suitability and historical performance. All suppliers are encouraged to register with Sedex and are required to sign up to the group managed supplier code of conduct,” it said.
Croser said the reliance on third-party audits was insufficient to safeguard against slavery in the supply chain.
“While Haribo UK’s modern slavery statement does identify raw material as being high risk, it also indicated a heavy reliance on third-party audits,” she said.
“It is widely accepted that audits aren’t an effective means of identifying human rights abuses—the forced labour and trafficking revealed in Thailand’s shrimp industry in 2014 took place within certified, audited supply chains.
“Companies have to move beyond audit and start conducting human rights due diligence on their supply chains, looking beyond first-tier suppliers, engaging with producers in high-risk locations and working with other sectors to deal with the root causes of abuses.”
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