Colombia’s largest soft drink company, Postobon, was already in trouble for allegedly sponsoring death squads. Now it is accused of using children who are vulnerable to malnutrition for the testing of new drinks.
The accusation that Postobon used 200 children in the impoverished La Guajira province for testing a new product followed an investigation by a group of news outlets and think tanks.
According to the media, Postobon initiated a program to provide drinks among 1,200 highly vulnerable children to “contribute to the nutrition of school-going children.”
The company introduced a new drink, Kufu, that contained chemical supplements that have not been certified, said the League Against Silence.
This is particularly controversial because La Guajira is infamous for its high malnutrition and child mortality rates.
The indigenous children’s poor health makes them extremely vulnerable to the possible effects of chemical supplements.
Postobon said that “KUFU” “is not a food supplement and much less a “drug” and thus didn’t require special permissions.
The lab tests were part of the “integral monitoring” that is part of the school food program, said the company.
“Kufu was given for free to 3,125 children to accompany their [school food] diet and counted on the approval and participation of multiple institutions,” said the soft drink company.
Postobon called the tests on 200 children that consumed Kufu a “technical monitoring.”
The company wanted to know “the physical development changes and the biochemical changes derived from the consumption of the drinks,” Postobon said.
The health ministry has reportedly sought answers since November. The use of children in the testing of drinks would require prior legal and ethical scrutiny.
Postobon told the government it would answer questions in its final report on the program.
The child welfare institute said “we will investigate.”
“It seems that Postobon wants to gather evidence of the benefits of a product, but it cannot do so in violation of children’s rights,” according to the state agency.