The days when we were concerned—or at least, I was, being an earnest teenager in a Clash T-shirt—about Starbucks putting local coffee shops out of business seem so quaint and far away now, curled up in a cozy sweater knit in a Vietnamese sweatshop reading articles on an iPhone about how the carnauba wax and animal gelatin in Haribo gummy candies are extracted by underpaid Brazilian workers and from pigs caked in their own feces. Oh, you hadn’t heard about Haribo gummies? Let us ruin those for you as well, then.
The terrible conditions under which Haribo sources these key ingredients—carnauba wax makes the gummies glossy and keeps them from sticking together, and animal gelatin is what makes them, well, gummy—were exposed last week in a documentary from German public broadcaster ARD. The documentary found that the carnauba wax, which comes from trees that only grow in northeastern Brazil, was being harvested by workers, some of them underage, who “are forced to sleep outside or in trucks, have no access to toilets and have to drink unfiltered water straight from nearby rivers.” These conditions have come to the attention of Brazilian authorities, who carry out occasional raids to free workers from the plantations, from conditions a Brazilian labor official says “could be described as slavery.”
Meanwhile, back in Germany, the factory farms where the animal gelatin in the candies is sourced from pig skin are similarly deplorable. English-language German news source Deutsche Welle describes footage from animal-rights activists included in the documentary that “showed pigs with open sores and abscesses living in indoor pens in their own excrement, and in some cases among their own dead.” In response, the companies in the supply chain that eventually comes around to delicious gummy bears, meat producer Westfleisch and gelatin producer Gelita, say they were “not aware” of any violations of German anti-cruelty law and that measures for “species appropriate animal farming” were in place at the farms.
In response, Haribo released a statement saying that it would “proactively” investigate the issues with suppliers, 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.” Similarly, a company spokesperson tells Vice’s Munchies site, “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. The conditions on the pig farms and the Brazilian plantations shown are insupportable.” They added that Haribo is investigating conditions with the cooperation of its suppliers, and that if urgent improvements are needed, “we will insist on their implementation and will not rest until these improvements have been implemented.”
If you speak German and/or feel the urge to create a free-form visual association between gummy bears and footage of factory farming, the ARD documentary is embedded below.