LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - German sweet maker Haribo said on Friday it was investigating companies in its supply chain following allegations of slave labor being used on its suppliers' plantations in Brazil.
Haribo, famous for its fruit-flavored gummy bears, came under fire this month after a German television documentary alleged that workers producing a key ingredient used to make the sweets - carnauba wax - were trapped in modern-day slavery.
The workers harvesting the palm leaves to make the wax were forced to sleep outside, denied access to clean drinking water and paid $12 a day, according to an episode of the series "Markencheck" ("Brand Check"), which aired this month.
"We are extremely concerned by some of the images shown on the consumer program," a Haribo spokeswoman said in a statement. "The conditions on ... the Brazilian plantations shown are insupportable.
"We are investigating with our first-level-suppliers the precise nature of the conditions in the plantations and farms that supply them," the spokeswoman added. "Furthermore, we are currently working on a prompt auditing of our suppliers."
Carnauba wax, which is used to make sweets shiny and stop them from sticking together, is produced in Brazil's northeastern states and exported worldwide for use in various products ranging from car oil and shoe polish to dental floss.
A Brazilian labor ministry official said this month that there had been a rising number of complaints about the carnauba wax industry, and that the authorities had found many people working in conditions "that could be described as slavery."
"The workers are treated as objects, worse than animals," he was reported as saying by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Family-owned Haribo was founded in 1920 and employs 7,000 people in 10 countries. It gave Germany one of its most famous advertising slogans, promising to make kids and adults happy.
(Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)