The toys within Kinder chocolate eggs are being made by child labour in Romania, an investigation has found.
Families in the poverty-stricken EU country are being paid as little as 22p an hour for making the toys at home.
Experts warned that anyone who ate the eggs could be at risk of food poisoning if the toys had been assembled in unsanitary conditions.
A whistleblower involved in the production of the eggs said: “Customers would expect products which go inside children’s chocolates to be made in controlled conditions, but so many of the toys are being made in people’s homes that effective quality control is impossible.”
“Ferrero [the Italian chocolatier that makes the eggs] may not be getting what they pay for and middle men somewhere must be making a killing off the back of people being treated like slaves,” the source told The Sun, which completed the investigation.
The newspaper found a Romanian family of five who said that they were paid 20 Romanian Lei — the equivalent of £3.80 — for every 1,000 completed eggs they delivered to a factory in Carei near the border with Hungary. All the children in the family, including two girls as young as six, were involved.
The children’s mother, Timea Jurj, 30, said: “I know the pay is terrible, but I don’t have any choice but to do this. We have to get money to eat and look after our children.”
Her husband, Christian, 41, added: “It’s slave labour, but what else can you do when you have no choice? When you see the way we live here, you must understand why it is our dream to come to the UK.”
The family are supplied with eggs and plastic parts by a subcontractor of Romexa SA, a company employed by Ferrero to make the eggs.
Carolyn Harris, the shadow home affairs minister, said: “My own children grew up loving Kinder toys. I’m horrified something so innocent is the product of what in reality is child slavery.”
In a statement, Ferrero said that it banned the use of children in factories and that its suppliers in Romania had passed a strict audit inspection this year. A spokesman added: “All our suppliers are subject to regular independent checks to ensure that they observe the terms of our strict code of conduct. We will investigate these new allegations fully in order to ensure that our code of conduct is being strictly observed.”
Daniel Muresan, of Romexa SA, told The Sun: “This is the first I have heard of it, but I will find out who is responsible and the factories involved will have their contracts terminated if this is found to be true.
“These pictures [from the investigation] suggest we have a big problem and this is something we will take very seriously indeed.”