Mars, accused of using child labor in its supply chain, says it aims to end the practice


Detail of a recently opened cocoa pod in Asikasu on Dec. 19, 2020.

Cristina Aldehuela | Afp | Getty Images

Candy giant Mars said it aims to end the use of child labor in its supply chain after CBS News reported that children in Ghana are harvesting the cocoa that finds its way into the company’s M&M’s and Snickers.

For more than two decades, the world’s largest chocolate makers have been pledging to eliminate — or at least reduce their reliance on — child labor. But those same companies have blown past industry-imposed deadlines to clean up their supply chains.

For its part, Mars’ latest deadline to end child labor in its supply chain is 2025. The company said more than 65% of its West African cocoa supply chain has already achieved compliance.

However, CBS News reported that Mars is further away from reaching that goal than it publicly projects. The news outlet said field supervisors from small subsistence farms regularly lied on their paperwork, saying children were attending school rather than working in cocoa fields, and alleged the companies never tried to verify that information.

“Mars unequivocally condemns the use of child labor. It has no place in our supply chain, and we are fully committed to helping to eradicate it,” the candy maker said in a statement to CNBC.

The company also said it is “urgently investigating” the claims made by CBS and is prepared to take “appropriate action” against any supplier not in compliance with its code of conduct.

The report compounds the issues Mars faces related to child labor. A lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of the District of Washington on Wednesday targets Mars, agricultural giant Cargill and Toblerone maker Mondelez, accusing the companies and their leaders of negligent supervision and consumer fraud tied to child labor in their supply chains.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit in 2021 that aimed to hold Nestle USA and Cargill responsible for child slavery on African farms that supplied their cocoa.

Read the full statement from Mars below:

Mars unequivocally condemns the use of child labor. It has no place in our supply chain, and we are fully committed to helping to eradicate it.

Despite our repeated requests, CBS did not provide specific details of their investigation to Mars ahead of their broadcast, which meant that we were unable to look into the allegations raised in their program. We are now urgently investigating the claims made in the broadcast and are ready to take appropriate action against any supplier found not to have met our expectations laid out in our Supplier Code of Conduct.

Our cocoa suppliers in Ghana have agreed to adhere to our robust Supplier Code of Conduct and we have also been clear that they must have a Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in place by 2025 that complies with the industry leading International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) standard. Over 65% of our cocoa supply in West Africa is already covered by CLMRS which is implemented by our suppliers on the ground, with audits conducted by certification bodies as part of Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification requirements.
We have a robust Protecting Children Action Plan in place that is backed by a significant financial investment totaling hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming years. We are also transparent in saying that we know that more needs to be done and we continue to work diligently with parties across the cocoa sector to further help advance respect for human rights in the cocoa supply chain.

Read the full CBS News report here.

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