“Your children’s candy contains traces of slavery.”
One of the interviewees in a documentary released Thursday by German public broadcaster ARD has popular gummy snack confectioner Haribo in a corner, after it claimed both human workers and pigs are enduring oppressive, harmful conditions at the hands of the company’s suppliers.
The 45-minute documentary, Markencheck (“brand check”), found oversights in the collection and manufacture of carnauba wax, which is gleaned from carnauba trees in Brazil’s northeastern states of Piaui, Ceara, Maranhao, Bahia, and Rio Grande do Norte. Those places are also among the poorest regions in the country. The wax is used to create gummy snacks’ glossy appearance and keep candies from sticking together, as well as in products like car oil, shoe polish, and dental floss. Around $118 million worth is routinely exported from Brazil to the United States, Germany, and Japan. The oversight in production in Haribo’s companies, specifically, is leaving workers in Brazil in deplorable conditions.
Human rights abuses – modern slavery
Filmmakers found that workers were living in trucks or outdoors, had no access to toilets, were drinking unfiltered water from rivers, and were often underage. To gather the leaves from the trees, workers were using hooked blades tied to long poles, and they were only earning 40 Real ($12, €10) a day. Brazilian police have often carried out raids on Haribo’s wax suppliers’ plantations in Brazil to free the workers from what one Brazilian Labor Ministry official said “could be described as slavery.”
Although the German company could be unaware of the conditions on plantations, Amnesty International says it’s still up to Haribo to ensure the safety of workers on their providers’ plantations. Lena Rohrbach, economy expert at Amnesty Germany, said the company was responsible for remedying human rights abuses, but, “unfortunately, the German government has failed to really bind companies to their duty of care.”
Pigs, too, are suffering at the hands of Haribo’s suppliers. Meat producer Westfleisch provides and processes pig sking for Haribo’s gelatin supplier Gelita. ARD’s documentary shows footage at pig farms in northern Germany where animals are living with open sores and abscesses, in their own excrement, and sometimes without drinking water.
Video footage for the documentary was provided by animal rights organization Tierretter, who entered the farms at night. Tierretter pointed out the irony that conditions that violate Germany’s animal cruelty laws were being used to create candies depicting cute animals.
Westfleisch claims it is unaware of animal abuse, and Gelita said it supported all measures for “species-appropriate animal farming,” and further stating that the pigksin it used came “exclusively from healthy animals that are slaughtered in approved slaughterhouses and are subject to examinations.”
Haribo released a statement pledging to look into and remedy any human or animal rights violations, saying, “We are a company that wants to bring joy to children and adults. We can therefore not accept the disregard of social and ethical standards.”
The company said it is unaware of which pig farms were recorded for the film, and that it is has reached out to filmmakers for more information.