As you count down the days to Halloween, you're probably thinking of the nostalgia-filled treats you'll consume all night that likely haven't changed much since your youth. A new report, however, details a different worry some are having when it comes to gummy bears. A German documentary released last week alleges that Haribo is using slave labor to make its gummy bears. The documentary called Markencheck ("Brand check," in German) focuses on the carnauba wax industry, which is used in everything from car products to dental floss. The wax also gives gummy bears their distinctive sheen, and comes from one of the poorest parts of northeastern Brazil, where laborers may reportedly earn $12 a day, the documentary claims. The documentary also detailed the conditions of pigs reportedly used to produce gelatin for the gummy bears.
Haribo responded to the allegations that their gummies are produced with slave labor in an email to Bustle, saying that the company is "extremely concerned" by the claims made in the documentary. A spokesperson for the company in a statement released to Bustle said:
“We would like to emphasize that we are extremely concerned by some of the images shown on the consumer programme [sic] "HARIBO-Check" broadcast on German TV channel ARD last week — the conditions on the pig farms and the Brazilian plantations shown are insupportable.
Our fundamental attitude in this respect is: Social and ethical standards are indivisible and non-negotiable. This is and always has been our belief. We take the report and the accusations made very seriously to yet again lead more in-depth discussions with our suppliers. The optimisation [sic] of our supply chain is a process we are continuously working on — in order to exert influence where we can."
The Haribo spokesperson also tells Bustle that the company has been prompted by these allegations to investigate the conditions on these farms.
Currently we are investigating together with our first-level-suppliers the precise nature of the conditions in the plantations and farms that supply them. 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.
Furthermore, we are currently working on a prompt auditing of our suppliers. This will also include the suppliers of our direct suppliers up to single farms – which means we are even going beyond the legal framework conditions. We will keep the public updated about any progress on this matter.
According to the report from German news organization Deutsche Welle, Haribo is said to allegedly source its wax from the poorest parts of northeastern Brazil. The workers harvesting the wax allegedly face dire working conditions: on top of the reported low wages, the workers allegedly do not have access to toilets or drinking water on-site. The documentary also shows footage of pigs reportedly used to produce gelatin for Haribo living in terrible conditions. The public response has been swift: Candy lovers are saying they won't buy the candy until they're sure it's being produced ethically.
Ethical food consumption has long been a topic of conversation, with modern-day slavery in the food industry remaining a problem both in the U.S. and abroad. The Haribo controversy is the latest instance of a candy manufacturer being accused of unethical practices — Nestle has faced criticism for allegedly not doing enough to eliminate child labor from its production process.
While Haribo isn't alone in facing criticism, that doesn't make this documentary's claims any less troubling. Brazil recently passed a government decree that makes it even harder for inspectors to call out firms for modern-day slave labor. Large companies often do not have oversight over the entire supply chain that provides the ingredients for their finished product, but it's important to acknowledge both these allegations and Haribo's commitment to auditing their suppliers.