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By: Holly Kragiopoulos 02 March 2020
News reached us of this documentary sometime last week and as we approach 8pm, we wanted to share some thoughts ahead of it going ‘live’. This is not us jumping on an opportunity to market ourselves on the back of some rather upsetting findings, it is merely a chance to spread the word of it airing and to maximise the potential reach to help improve people’s understanding of an industry full of overused buzz words.
“The UK is a nation of self-confessed coffee lovers. Starbucks and Nespresso – owned by Nestle – have helped revolutionise the way we drink coffee on the high street and now in our home. Both these brands make great play of their ethical credentials and claim to have “zero tolerance” of child labour.
But an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches has uncovered evidence that shows the truth to be rather different.”
Dispatches, Monday 2nd March, 8pm on Channel 4
First of all, if this isn’t on your watch list for later, get it recorded! For 6 years, we have struggled to clearly and succinctly explain the difference between companies like ours and those of the size and magnitude of Starbucks and Nespresso, without using inflammatory and accusatory language. It is by far the hardest obstacle in drawing up a mission statement or coming up with a way of getting our values across to our customer base without lengthy blog posts (sorry not sorry) and fairly heavy conversation which is of course not always doable at the till point! Every time we do manage to get across the main differences in how we work, the common response tends to be ‘how do people not know about this’? Finally, it seems these brands are receiving some mainstream airtime that will showcase the truth and reality behind commodity coffee once and for all. This is by no means something we are celebrating, hearing about child labour in our industry is always distressing and abominable particularly when found to be linked with some of the world’s most well known coffee businesses.
The impending fallout has got us thinking about the concept of ‘trust’ and how this is created. Yes it can be harnessed from delivering a consistent service or product, but what happens if that is done so on the basis of an unethical supply chain? It is hardly the first time the aforementioned brands have been in the news for all the wrong reasons…Nespresso first came under fire for modern slavery on one of their Brazilian farms more than 4 years ago and people still haven’t forgotten the Starbucks tax avoidance scandal.
So how have these tainted brands continued to experience mega-growth? Starbucks has an annual global income of more than £20bn and has over 1000 cafes in the UK alone, Nespresso sales in the UK have now topped £1bn….(Dispatches, Monday 2nd March, 8pm on Channel 4) despite the environmental and now massive social question mark over how they operate. Yes we know George Clooney has probably got something to do with it but surely UK consumers are more conscious in their decisions than to be so easily swayed with a dishy front man?
The truth of the matter is that sadly, particularly amongst larger corporate businesses, these brands tend to harness more trust than the smaller independents thanks to their global reach/recognition and proven track record. The assumption goes that if a company is big, they must have dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s because how could they risk not doing so? We haven’t seen the documentary yet but what we think will come across is that by commoditising any product, the people who are key in that supply chain (i.e. the producers and labour force) are essentially at the mercy of a capitalist and predatory system that enables these things to occur in the interest of growth. If the branding is strong enough, if there is a Hollywood A lister standing behind it, who will really peel back the covers to ask what is truly going on? Both Nespresso and Starbucks have since released a statement ahead of the programme airing and I have selected a few key points from it that stand out (you can read the full article here):
“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’ve launched a thorough investigation to find out which farms were filmed and whether they supply Nespresso.”
Nespresso’s chief executive Guillaume Le Cunff
It seems the company is not even aware of which farms they are working with for their supply so how can they possibly guarantee that their procurement requirements are being met?
“We can confirm we have not purchased coffee from the farms in question during the most recent harvest season, and we will not do so until we can verify that they are not in breach of C.A.F.E. Practices – our ethical sourcing program developed in partnership with Conservation International that provides comprehensive social, environmental and economic standards, including zero tolerance for child labour.”
Starbucks are well known for their in house certification system Café Practices – the historic relationship with the farm in question was indeed on the basis of it meeting these guidelines so the question has to be asked, how could this have happened? Who is responsible for their auditing and how has this been overlooked?
And finally, let’s hear from the man himself Mr George Clooney on the shame of finding Nespresso’s coffee is all too often a result of child labour:
“…I was surprised and saddened to see this story. Clearly this board and this company still have work to do.”
Ultimately, by spending your money with a business that prioritises profit above all else you cannot assume a safe, fair, non-exploitary, traceable and transparent supply chain despite the heavily publicised corporate social responsibility programmes that are so often over-relied upon for the brands in question. We are not writing this to wage a war on these brands who do play an important role in the industry in deterring people from instant freeze-dried coffee products but we are not living in a world that can happily turn a blind eye to these issues any more. We have had the pleasure of working with many businesses and individuals over the years who proudly buy from us because they value and trust in the direct relationships we have with our producing partners. Our brand is sought after for no other reason than we know where our coffee comes from – our focus is on getting as much value and positive impact back to the start of the chain and ultimately it tastes all the better for it. If you want more detail on how we work and differ to the big brands then get in touch and if you want our thoughts on what it takes to be truly ethical in your coffee purchases, you might want to check out one of our latest blog posts too.
We hope that what does come out of all this is a review into the very serious issues that are ultimately threatening the future of our industry – but has the damage for Nespresso and Starbucks already been done? They have survived before, can they do so again without people asking if you didn’t know about this, what else are you unaware of/covering up?
It is just not acceptable any more to prioritise price and profits over people and planet, if you are a business currently doing so – how do you think this reflects on your brand values and the client’s understanding of your business? Pod machines and Starbucks concessions are surely no longer the definition of ‘good office coffee’? Good in what way? Not the taste, not for the people growing it and not for the planet. The buck doesn’t stop with these brands either, if this has been uncovered for businesses that are well known for their CSR programmes, what about the other commercial brands that definitely don’t have the same focus on sourcing responsibly? It might come cheap and have a well known name on the front of the pack but how good does it taste when you know that it may have been picked by children in a manner dangerous to both their health and development?
So go on, demand more and demand better and let’s start proving that coffee can bring huge opportunities for development when traded directly, when traded fairly.
If you want to have a conversation after watching tonight’s Dispatches, please don’t hesitate to give me a bell on 07725144204 or drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to the reporter Antony Barnett and the producing team for bringing this very serious issue to the forefront of the consumer’s mind, through education comes change.