YORK chocolate maker Nestlé has defended the Fairtrade labelling on its KitKat bars after a national investigation branded the current system “confusing”.

An investigation by BBC’s Watchdog programme outlined how currently leading manufacturers such as Nestlé, Cadbury and Mars are allowed to mix up the Fairtrade beans with others from non trade sources, and yet still label the finished product as Fairtrade.

The result is that there is’s no guarantee that Fairtrade branded chocolate bars will actually contain any Fairtrade cocoa or they may only contain a small percentage.

The current rules governing chocolate manufacturers rely on a “mass balance” system. This means that if one chocolate manufacturer mixes one tonne of Fairtrade cocoa beans with ten tonnes of conventional ones, it is allowed to market as Fairtrade ten per cent of its “hybrid” Fairtrade and conventional cocoa bean-sourced output.

A Nestlé spokesman said: “Mass balance has enabled Fairtrade to increase its scale in cocoa, sugar, tea and juices, reaching thousands more farmers than it would otherwise. We would never want to mislead consumers and we are looking into how we can communicate more clearly how mass balance works and the benefits it brings to farmers and their families.”

Nestlé first branded its York-made KitKats Fairtrade in January 2010, and a spokesman said under the current position there was no question that the Fairtrade farmers were losing out and they receive all the money they are entitled to.

As previously reported, earlier this year Nestlé UK hosted Kouame Fasseri, an Ivory Coast cocoa farmer who appears on the back of Nestle’s Fairtrade Kitkat. He spoke about the difference the Fairtrade premiums had made to his community going towards a new health centre, health insurance and a new school.

The spokesman said: “Shoppers can be absolutely sure that the quantity of cocoa needed to make our four-finger Kitkat is purchased under the Fairtrade terms and the Ivory Coast farmers and their families received the full benefit. Consumers in the UK and Ireland can be absolutely certain that for every four finger Kitkat they buy, cocoa farmers receive the benefits that come with Fairtrade certification.”