The wax and gelatin ingredients are harvested by workers in terrible conditions
Close-up of gummy bears Candies
Credit: Photo by mikroman via Getty Images

There are few foods capable of evoking a sense of childlike innocence and splendor quite like gummy bears. But because the world can’t have nice things, not even gummy bears are safe from shady business practices and ethical dilemmas.

Earlier this month, German media company ARD released a 45-minute documentary as part of its Markencheck (Brand Check) series that shed light on some shady practices in Haribo’s supply chain. Based on the evidence uncovered, the German confectioner either knowingly or unknowingly relies on de facto slave labor and animal cruelty to source the carnauba wax and gelatin that give its gummies their distinct properties.

ARD’s investigation revealed that Haribo gets its carnauba wax from some of the poorest areas of northeastern Brazil, where laborers—at least some of whom are underage— earn no more than $12 a day harvesting the wax from tall trees in oppressive conditions. In addition to long hours, laborers are forced to sleep in trucks or outdoors, often can’t access toilets, and have to drink out of unfiltered streams to get any water at all.

Beyond the human misery that acquiring carnauba wax inflicts, Haribo’s gelatin supplier also seems to have a poor record when it comes to animal rights. ARD alleges that the German industrial farm where Haribo gets its GELITA gelatin leaves its pigs to fester in their own filth, often surrounded by the rotting corpses of other animals.

Naturally, Haribo has expressed alarm at the allegations. They’re conducting a full-scale audit of their suppliers, in the hopes of rooting out unethical practices. “We are investigating together with our suppliers the precise nature of the conditions in the companies that supply them," said a Haribo representative, adding that they “will not rest until these improvements have been implemented." Until then, though, consumers with a moral compass might want to lay off the sweets.