Mars’ cocoa harvest in Ghana includes suppliers making extensive use of child labor, according to CBS News.
The outlet reported it found instances of child labor at each of the remote farms supplying cocoa to Mars in the country it visited as part of the investigation, including children “as young as 5 years old using machetes nearly as big as themselves” to harvest cocoa.
“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 company, whose brands include M&Ms and Snickers, responded in a statement posted to its website.
Mars did not deny any of the allegations made in the report, instead writing “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.” It also acknowledged “that more needs to be done,” and claims the company will “continue to work diligently with parties across the cocoa sector to further help advance respect for human rights in the cocoa supply chain.”
The company went on to state that its cocoa suppliers in the country have agreed to adhere to its “robust Supplier Code of Conduct,” adding that it has “also been clear that they must have a Child Labor and Remediation System (CLMRS) in place by 2025 that complies with the industry leading International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) standard,” claiming that “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.”
Mars does state in its “Cocoa For Generations” strategy that it will “seek to ensure 100% of at-risk families” in its cocoa supply chains are covered by the program by 2025, with such language apparently setting a goal without any concrete commitment. It’s unclear what steps the company is taking to close the gap of around 35% in its West Africa cocoa supply still not covered by CLMRS in order to meet its goal in just over a year’s time.
The reporting from CBS called into question the validity of Mars’ current monitoring system, with sources suggesting they were pressured to quickly produce lists of names of children removed from cocoa harvesting operations without any follow-up from the company into the validity of such information. CBS claims it found some children named on such lists harvesting cocoa at the sites they visited.
Mars had not responded to questions from Marketing Daily by the time of publication.
CBS’ investigation comes amid increased scrutiny over child labor practices involved in the cocoa industry, including a federal lawsuit filed by International Rights Advocate this summer, and a recent report on Max's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver."