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Leading candy manufacturer Mars Inc. accused of using child labor in CBS investigation

The company behind some of your favorite chocolate bars is accused of relying on child labor to assist in the harvest of cocoa beans used in its products, like M&M's and Snickers.

According to a CBS News investigation published Wednesday, Mars Inc., a leading manufacturer in petcare, snacking and food brands, has kids as young as 5 years old working in cocoa fields in Ghana that supply the company with the beans they need to make chocolate bars. This, the outlet said, is despite Mars’ pledge to eradicate the use of child labor in their supply chain by 2025.

After a visit across the cocoa belt in Ghana, CBS News found children working at each of the farms they visited.

The investigation also found that some of the children the company listed as beneficiaries of a “robust monitoring system” intended to keep children off the plantation and in school were still working in the fields.

Thousands of children from the region were said to be included on the list, but a cocoa field supervisor employed by Mars shared with CBS News that, "almost every data" used to make up the lists "is cooked ... or is not accurate," adding that he had personally "made up lists before."

Key findings in the CBS News report

Here are some of the key findings CBS News journalists found after their visit. Read the full investigation at cbsnews.com.

◾ Field supervisors shared that they were under pressure to produce names of children, usually with less than a day's notice. The company never checked back in to make sure the children listed existed.

◾ Only one-third of the 300 children registered to attend one of the schools CBS News visited attended classes, sharing that they worked in the fields before or after school.

◾ No one has returned to check whether one girl the company visited about 18 months ago to provide her with school supplies was attending classes.

◾ Over a dozen children CBS News spoke with confirmed that they were not in school or had been regularly monitored to make sure they were attending classes.

Mars responds in a statement

CBS News included a statement from Mars in their investigation, in which the company said they condemn the use of child labor.

Mars has not returned USA TODAY’s request for comment.

“Despite our requests, CBS did not provide specific details of their investigation to Mars ahead of time in order for us to investigate claims of misconduct at the time of this report. We treat any claim of misconduct in our supply chain very seriously and we will thoroughly investigate once we have the necessary information and take appropriate action,” a Mars spokesperson shared with CBS News.

The company also stated that cocoa suppliers in Ghana agreed to adhere to their robust Supplier Code of Conduct and we have also been clear that they must have a Child Labor and Remediation System in place by 2025 that complies with the industry-leading International Cocoa Initiative standard.

“We are committed to helping eradicate it, which is why we have a robust Protecting Children Action Plan in place that is backed by a significant financial investment. 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.”

A lawsuit alleging consumer fraud

Human rights lawyer, Terry Collingsworth has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging consumer fraud against American chocolate companies, including Mars.

Collingsworth told CBS News he has collected statements from Ghanaian children working for Mars suppliers.

"They're telling the public that we're rehabilitating this kid, and then they're cynically coming here and just checking a box and the kid is back working the next day," Collingsworth told CBS News.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mars child labor CBS investigation: Key findings, company's response