Nestlé and Starbucks benefit from child labor in Guatemala

Time and again, media and non-governmental organizations make public where children have to work for the global value chain. Consumers can’t even be sure to avoid child labor when they buy certified products, recent research shows.

At the beginning of March, the investigative series “Dispatches” of the British TV channel “Channel 4” revealed that children under twelve work on Guatemalan coffee plantations. The harvested coffee beans were sold to Starbucks and Nestlé. The plantations are both marked with the “Fairtrade” seal and certified by the" Rainbow Alliance", which excludes or limits child labor in the production chain.

Unfortunately, not an isolated case

Apparently, these are not isolated cases: children worked on all seven plantations on which the film team researched. All seven did business with Nestlé, five of them with Starbucks. The film crew estimated the age of the children at only eight years.

Harvesting coffee is hard work that starts early in the morning. From six o’clock, the harvesters pick the ripe, red fruits from the coffee bushes and collect them in a basket, which they carry at the hip. The work in steep terrain lasts until the early afternoon.

The pickers are paid by weight. The report shows how children and young people carry heavy coffee bags to the weighing station. They receive a wage of just under six francs per day, but it can be quite less. That’s about as much as a single Café latte in a Starbucks eatery costs.

Even poverty does not justify child labor

Whether palm oil, cocoa, electronics or crabs, many products use child labor. It is sometimes more and often less compatible with the child’s well-being. The use of children in production chains is a complex Problem. Many countries have regulations that are much looser than in this country. Out of necessity: about half of the Guatemalan population lives below the poverty line.

It is usually stipulated that children are allowed to work within certain limits, provided that their education and health do not suffer. However, for children who work 40 hours and up to six days a week, like the coffee pickers in Guatemala, school lessons are impossible. Neither the UN directive on child labour nor the Guatemalan legal situation allow this. Both Nestlé and Starbucks are likely to be accused of violations of international labour laws, human rights lawyer Oliver Holland comments to Channel 4.

Commitments …

In their voluntary commitments, both Starbucks and Nestlé speak out against child labour. If children were hired, their work “should not endanger the education, health, safety, and mental and physical development of the child,” according to Starbucks “Global Human Rights Statement.” For Nestlé, child labour is simply “unacceptable”, CEO Guillaume Le Cunff responded to the report by"Channel 4".

Starbucks assured that they had not bought coffee from the companies visited by" Dispatches " last season. According to the company, it ceased cooperation with the plantations under investigation and announced an investigation. According to local farmers, Nespresso inspectors only come by once a year, and Starbucks inspections are even rarer.

… and a contrite Hollywood Star

The predominantly British media, which reported on the research of “Channel 4”, concentrated in the reporting mainly on a prominent name: George Clooney, who has been advertising for Nespresso for 14 years, showed himself" sad “and"shaken”.

The Hollywood star, whose commitment as an ambassador of Nespresso has earned him more than $40 million, sits on Nespresso’s Sustainability Advisory Board. “It is clear that this board and this company still have a lot to do. And this work will be done,” he said. “I hope that this Reporter will continue to investigate and report on these conditions if they do not improve,” he said.

It is great that George Clooney supports the investigation, comments “Dispatches” Reporter Anthony Barnett Clooney’s Statement. But if he was serious about it, he had to make sure that Nespresso took money in hand. Announcing an investigation is easy and a delivery stop will hit the wrong people. The reason the children worked was that their parents and the farms on which they worked were not paid enough.