LONDON — The Rainforest Alliance said it was strengthening its cocoa certification programme after its Utz scheme came under fire last year for auditing lapses that resulted in it certifying cocoa farmed by children or grown in protected forests.

The non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which together with Utz audits most of the world’s certified cocoa, said it would invest an additional $7.1 million in its programme to improve transparency and strengthen audit rules.

The move follows a Washington Post report last year that found Utz-certified farms in Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, were more likely to employ child labor than those not certified. The newspaper also found many Utz-certified farms were in protected forests.

“We are proud to announce a significantly stronger programme,” said Alex Morgan, chief markets officer at the Rainforest Alliance, which is based in New York and Amsterdam.

Utz merged with Rainforest Alliance in 2018 but remains a separate certification brand.

Chocolate companies like Mondelez, Mars Wrigley, and Hershey Co. have for years used cocoa certified by NGOs to meet consumer demands for ethical and sustainable sourcing.

Despite paying a premium for these beans, and charging consumers more for the chocolate, the certification system as a whole has had little success in stemming child labor and deforestation in the cocoa industry.

Western governments are now looking to legislate against the import of commodities linked to climate change and human rights abuses, putting companies, producing countries and NGOs under increased pressure to find solutions. — Reuters