That iconic gold-lined bag of sweet, innocent gummy bears could be holding a dark secret.
A documentary from the German broadcaster ARD alleges that the vaulted candy-maker Haribo’s gummy bears are made using ingredients farmed by near-slave laborers in Brazil and from abusive animal farms in which pigs wander amongst the rotting corpses of their own dead.
The allegations led an alarmed Haribo to begin an ongoing audit of its supply chain and to affirm in a translated release that “the conditions in the shown pig farm and in the Brazilian plantations are not acceptable” and that “HARIBO takes the allegations very seriously.”
The allegations came as a serious blow to gummy bear fans on social media, who see the fruity candies as a symbol of innocence and childhood.
At issue in the documentary are two ingredients: carnauba wax, an ingredient used in a coating that keeps the bears from sticking together, and gelatin, which is made from pork skin and is what makes gummies “gummy.”
The German-language documentary, called “Markencheck” or “Brand Check,” shows workers at carnauba wax plantations in Brazil harvesting the wax from tall trees using long, bladed poles.
The documentary claims the workers make about $12 a day, are forced to sleep outside or in their cars, have no access to toilets and drink water straight out of nearby rivers, Deutsche Welle reported. A Brazilian labor official told the filmmakers in the documentary the conditions “could be described as slavery” and the workers “are treated as objects, worse than animals.”
The film also included footage of a pig farm in northern Germany, allegedly a supplier of pig skin to Gelita, which makes gelatin that is sold to Haribo, Deutsche Welle reported. The footage shows the pigs wandering in their pens, covered in excrement and open sores and stepping around the bodies of the dead.
“It almost seems cynical that a product that is partly manufactured under such cruel conditions for animals is given the form of a cute animal,” animal rights organization Tierretter, which says it provided the footage to the filmmakers, said in a translated statement.
Haribo said in a translated release it had begun an audit of its suppliers and, in some cases, even its suppliers’ suppliers.
The company said in the release that it had contacted the filmmakers and asked for the names and locations of the plantations in Brazil, but hasn’t received a satisfactory answer as of a translated update on Oct. 19.
It has also begun a site-by-site audit of the pig farms in its supply chain, and said in a translated release that if the farms “fail to comply with the principles of animal welfare,” Haribo will either make sure the conditions are corrected or cease business with the farms. “All of us - companies, manufacturing companies, trade, consumers and also our competitors - have to think about how we deal with animal welfare in our society,” the company wrote in the update.
“Social and ethical standards are indivisible and non-negotiable,” the company wrote in another translated release. “That is and has always been our attitude.”