George Clooney has pledged 'work will be done' after an investigation uncovered child labour at farms linked to the Nespresso coffee he advertises.
The actor, who has reportedly earned £31million as the brand's ambassador, said he was saddened after youngsters were filmed working eight-hour days on plantations for less than £5.
The probe by Channel 4's Dispatches showed them doing up to six-day weeks picking beans and shifting heavy loads to weighing areas in Guatemala.
Nespresso, known for its stylish coffee machines and capsules, does not publicly list its supplier farms.
But Dispatches said it found information about suppliers in Guatemala, the world's tenth largest coffee producer. Reporters claim they were given access to farms located in remote regions and saw children working at all of them.
The Swiss coffee brand has previously claimed its beans come from ethical sources.
Clooney, who joined Nespresso's Sustainability Advisory Board in 2013, said: 'I was surprised and saddened to see this story. Clearly this board and this company still have work to do. And that work will be done.'
He added: 'Having grown up working on a tobacco farm from the time I was 12 I'm uniquely aware of the complex issues regarding farming and child labour.'
Clooney, who worked on his grandparents' tobacco farm in Kentucky during summer holidays, said he hoped Dispatches reporter Anthony Barnett, who revealed the evidence, 'will continue to investigate these conditions and report accurately if they do not improve'.
'The check and balance of good corporate responsibility lies not just with the company itself but also independent journalists like Mr Barnett to hold everyone's promise to account,' Clooney said.
The actor, 58, has been Nespresso's brand ambassador since 2006 and insisted he was 'enormously proud' of its work. He said he joined the advisory board and groups including the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade International and the Fair Labour Association.
He added: 'The goal then, as it remains to this day, is to improve the lives of farmers. Make their farms more profitable. More sustainable. I'm enormously proud of the success of their efforts. They've improved the lives and livelihoods of thousands of farms all around the world.'
Nespresso chief executive Guillaume Le Cunff insisted it had 'zero tolerance of child labour' and promised to investigate. He said: 'It is unacceptable. Where there are claims that our high standards are not met, we act immediately.
'In this case, we've launched a thorough investigation to find out which farms were filmed and whether they supply Nespresso. We will not resume purchases of coffee from farms in this area until the investigation is closed.'
Dispatches said Nespresso declined to give an interview.
Since its formation in 2000, the company has hired more than 13,000 staff in 76 countries and launched more than 700 boutique stores.
It is not the first time the brand has been accused of forced labour. An investigation by Reuters in December found coffee produced by forced labour in Brazil was stamped slavery-free by certification schemes and sold at a premium to firms like Nespresso.
Dispatches is on Monday at 8pm on Channel 4.
A statement from Nespresso reads: 'Nespresso has zero tolerance of child labour. It is unacceptable. Where there are claims that our high standards are not met, we act immediately. In this case, we were informed by a UK media outlet that they had identified instances of child labor on six farms in a region of Guatemala.
'The media outlet refused to provide us with the details of the farms so that we could confirm whether they supplied Nespresso and immediately address these allegations. However, we have launched a thorough investigation and taken a number of actions.
'First and foremost, we have immediately stopped purchases of coffee from all farms in the region and we will not resume purchases until we are able to investigate and be assured that child labour is not being used.
'Through the investigation, any issues we uncover will be dealt with diligently and firm action will be taken.
'We will also double the number of agronomists that we have on the ground in the region and we will implement unannounced visits to check on compliance on social and labour issues.
'All of these actions are on top of our ongoing direct work with farmers and partners in the region and around the world.
'We work with Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International to reinforce good working practices and fair treatment of workers, including education on the risks of child labour.
'In fact, all of the farms in the cooperatives in this region of Guatemala are Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certified.
'We invest heavily in this effort; in 2019, our 400 agronomists made over 170,000 farm visits and trainings across the world, including 60,000 detailed on farm sustainability assessments.
'This was backed up by more than 3,300 third party verification farm audits.
'We will continue to do all we can to stamp child labour out. It has no place in our supply chain.
'We are extremely concerned by the allegations made and take them very seriously. We are making significant efforts to address child labor and protect the children in the coffee farming communities we work with, and we will continue to do so.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.