Carnauba wax is used as a coating agent to stop some of Haribo’s confections sticking together. The company sources wax primarily harvested and produced on farms in Brazil.
German public broadcasting station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) examined conditions on carnauba-producing farms in documentary programme ARD-Markencheck. According to the report, which aired earlier this week, workers on farms supplying Haribo are forced to work in conditions amounting to modern-day slavery.
Markencheck said workers harvesting the palm leaves used to make carnauba wax are forced to sleep outside, denied access to clean drinking water and work for just $12 (€10.30) per day.
“We are shocked and appalled by recent reports concerning the treatment of workers at carnauba wax suppliers in Brazil. Such behavior is unacceptable and goes against everything Haribo stands for as a company,” a Haribo spokesperson insisted.
The family-owned company is launching an independent investigation into the allegations and initiating discussions with the Brazilian Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“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,” the spokesperson revealed.
If human rights abuses are identified Haribo will review its existing supplier relationships for carnauba wax, the company warned.
“For Haribo, social and ethical labor standards are non-negotiable as far as our suppliers, preliminary suppliers and their farms are concerned. That has always been our position. 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.”
Could Haribo have done more?
While praising Haribo for its “swift” response to the revelations Marilyn Croser, director of the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), 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 CSR policies to tackle slavery and identified raw materials as a high-risk area.
“Raw materials and packaging where farming or mining exists (gelatin, 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," Haribo's UK unit stated.
Croser believes that a reliance on third-party audits is insufficient to safeguard against slavery in the supply chain. “While Haribo UK’s modern slavery statement does identify raw materials as being high-risk, it also indicates a heavy reliance on third-party audits. 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,” she told FoodNavigator.
“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 others across sectors to deal with the root causes of abuses."