Last Monday, German broadcaster ARD aired a pretty sobering investigative report on confectionary company Haribo—maker of globally beloved gummy bears and Happy Cola gummy bottles, among other candies—alleging that the company is unknowingly dependent on modern-day slave labor. The investigation reveals how Haribo's optimization of its supply chain has led to punishing conditions for both the workers and the animals from which the company sources its ingredients.
A good chunk of the 45-minute documentary, aired on ARD's Markencheck (which literally translates to "brand check"), details the lives of workers in some of the poorest states of northeastern Brazil, where you'll find many of the world's carnauba wax trees. Carnauba wax is a key ingredient in Haribo's products, giving gummy bears their glossy finish while preventing them from congealing together in large clumps. It's the same material you'd find in car oil, shoe polish, and lip balms.
The carnauba wax industry, though, leans on the labor of underpaid and overworked Brazilians, some of whom are minors. They earn roughly 40 real (US $12) per day to spend long hours collecting wax from tall trees that they can't reach without the aid of long, hooked blades. They sleep outside or in trucks. They don't have access to drinking water beyond the unfiltered water they get from nearby streams. They're frequently deprived access to toilets.
Another portion of the documentary scrutinizes the industrial farms within northern Germany where pigs are raised for the ultimate use of GELITA, the company from which Haribo sources its gelatin. These pigs, as the documentary shows, are caked in their own feces and roam around their pens with open and unattended sores, sometimes amongst the rotting corpses of their own.
The findings from the documentary have alarmed Haribo, a company that's headquartered in Germany but whose products are sold worldwide, prompting what the company purports to be a rigorous investigation of its own.
"We would like to emphasize that we are extremely concerned by some of the images shown on the consumer program broadcast on German TV channel ARD last week," a Haribo spokesperson wrote MUNCHIES over email Tuesday morning. "The conditions on the pig farms and the Brazilian plantations shown are insupportable."
The company told MUNCHIES that it is working on a "prompt auditing" of its suppliers, ranging from direct suppliers to single farms. Haribo insists that it will be transparent every step of the way, keeping the public abreast of the status of this audit.
"Currently, we are investigating together with our suppliers the precise nature of the conditions in the companies that supply them," the representative continued. "Should it transpire that urgent improvements are needed in this area, we will insist on their implementation and will not rest until these improvements have been implemented."