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Aussie Supermarkets Question Nutella After Child Labour Report

Coles, Woolworths and IGA are rushing to get more information about Nutella's production practices after the hazelnut spread was implicated in a child labour controversy in a BBC news investigation.

Last week the BBC published a special report from Turkey -- where 70 percent of the world's hazelnuts are grown -- looking at labour practices involved in the harvesting of the product. The investigation claimed that "nuts are picked mainly by migrants, including children, who work long hours for very low pay" and put the spotlight on whether Nutella's parent company Ferrero was above-board regarding its workforce.

Ferrero makes Nutella, Ferrero Rocher, and a line of Kinder Surprise and Bueno chocolate products.

Photo: Getty

The BBC report details an "often complex supply chain" and web of harvesters, suppliers and buyers. One nut trader said it was "impossible for the tons of hazelnuts to be monitored" and "it's not possible to know which producer they're coming from". Children as young as 10 are being used to pick the nuts, it was reported, with other workers reportedly paid well below the minimum wage of 95 lira (AUD$25) a day.

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Bamsi Akin, general manager of Ferrero Hazelnut Company in Turkey, told the BBC "if we determine a product which is produced with unethical practices, we would not touch it" but admitted "no-one can say" if the system is "completely clean".

The report has sent Australian supermarkets, which stock Nutella and other Ferrero products as popular treats, scrambling for more information.

A plantation worker rakes hazelnuts in Duzce, Turkey. Photo: AAP

In a statement, a Ferrero Group spokesperson said it "does not tolerate child labour".

"We are determined to prevent and eliminate child labour all along our supply chains, with the conviction that every child should be protected, by all possible means, from any form of exploitation," the spokesperson told 10 daily.

Coles, IGA and Woolworths confirmed to 10 daily they have urgently contacted Ferrero for more information regarding the allegations made in the BBC report.

"We are aware of these reports and have contacted the supplier for further information on its response to the matter," a Woolworths spokesperson said in a brief statement.

Woolworths, IGA and Coles have asked for more information. Photo: Getty

Coles said it had also asked Ferrero for more information on how it produces Nutella.

"Coles has reached out to Ferraro regarding these claims," a spokesperson said.

Coles said its 'Ethical Sourcing Policy' applied to all goods in its store, and all suppliers.

"Under their Terms of Trade with Coles, proprietary brand suppliers agree to uphold the Coles Group Ethical Sourcing Policy and manage human rights risks in their supply chains," the supermarket said.

"If a proprietary brand supplier finds confirmed non-conformances in their supply chain, Coles’ expectation is that they will address and remediate these issues."

Photo: Getty

Coles said on its website that it is "committed to ensuring that all workers in our supply chains are treated fairly."

"If a supplier cannot demonstrate a commitment to our Ethical Sourcing Policy, we reserve the right to terminate their trading agreement," its website detailed.

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In a statement, IGA's parent company Metcash also said it was speaking to Ferrero.

"Metcash is committed to being a responsible member of the communities in which we live and operate, and we have the same expectations of our suppliers," a spokesperson said.

"Our commitment includes continuing to raise awareness for the responsible sourcing of products within our business and across our independent retailer network."

"We are discussing these allegations directly with Ferrero."

A spotlight has been shone on the practices around harvesting of hazelnuts. Photo: Getty

The Ferrero spokesperson said the company was committed to stamping out child labour, but noted the "complexity" of the hazelnut industry.

"Being a larger hazelnut user, Ferrero is committed to contributing to influencing and driving sustainable changes in the hazelnut production sector. This includes combatting child labour with a multi-stakeholder approach that involves a combination of different measures, as in our Ferrero Farming Values Program (FFV)," a statement read.

"In fact, the complexity of the hazelnut supply chain means it cannot be transformed by one single actor, and cooperation is absolutely essential to tackling the issue of child labour."

The spokesperson said the company was part of efforts in Turkey which "contribute to the elimination of the worst forms of child labour in seasonal agriculture in hazelnut harvesting."

Ferrero said these efforts saw thousands of children withdrawn or prevented from working in the field, by providing education services, while families were given counselling, and hazelnut plantation owners were given counselling and training.