Nestle's commitment to Fairtrade has been brought into question by human rights organisations after the company announced it had switched its Kit Kat bar to Fairtrade in the UK and Ireland.

The move, announced yesterday (7 December), is the latest in a growing number of initiatives from the world's chocolate makers as they seek to position their products as more 'ethical'.

However, human rights organisations have said that while Nestlé's announcement may be a "very small step" toward supporting a more sustainable and labour-friendly system of cocoa sourcing, the company's history and practices around the world raise questions about its commitment to Fairtrade. 

"Nestlé cannot claim to be sourcing responsible cocoa by using a small amount of Fairtrade-certified cocoa when the majority of its cocoa could be produced by forced labour and child labour," said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

"As the largest food company in the world, Nestlé must make a stronger commitment to protecting worker rights in its cocoa supply chain as well as in its production facilities and in the sourcing of other agricultural products."

Todd Larsen, corporate responsibility programs director at Green America, echoed Athreya's sentiments and said it is urging Nestlé to "go beyond this token commitment" to Fairtrade and to take steps to "end all sourcing from child labor and pay a living wage to its workers worldwide". 

Larsen said: "Consumers the world over are increasingly concerned that their chocolate purchases are supporting slavery and misery, and are increasingly purchasing Fairtrade chocolate as a result. They will be looking to Nestlé to do far more to support farmers worldwide."

In October, Nestlé launched a programme related to its global cocoa sourcing called 'The Cocoa Plan'. However, the organisations claimed the scheme does not include investing in Fairtrade cocoa, making it unclear as to whether Nestlé plans to expand Fairtrade cocoa beyond the UK.

Nevertheless, Nestle said its Fairtrade certification of Kit Kat for the UK & Ireland is only one example of how individual markets intend to support its wider global plan on cocoa. 

"The cocoa plan aims to help address the key issues facing the cocoa farming communities that Nestlé works with, from an economic, social and environmental perspective," a spokesperson for Nestle said.

"Nestlé is investing over GBP65m over the next ten years to address key economic, social and environmental issues that the farming communities that we work with face. Certification is one aspect of the plan and individual Nestlé markets will be able to determinate the role that certification of brands will play as they implement it," the spokesperson told just-food.