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Channel 4 Investigation Ties Starbucks and Nespresso to Coffee Farms Using Child Labour

The two coffee giants renounced the supply chain, but that’s not a long term solution

Starbucks Coffee Shop General View
Dispatches linked Starbucks and Nespresso to Guatemalan coffee farms using child labour
John Keeble/Getty Images

Two coffee giants steeped in controversy

A new “Dispatches” investigation from Channel 4 tied both Starbucks and Nespresso to coffee farms reliant on child labour in Guatemala. The documentary, which aired Monday 2 March, visited 12 farms in total, finding seven supplying Nespresso and five supplying Starbucks all used under age workers, contravening the United Nations’ internationally binding labour regulations.

The response, from Starbucks, Nespresso, and Nespresso ambassador and specialist in “how on earth is this advert for Nespresso” adverts George Clooney has been predictable and swift: condemn; distance; assert that they will not support those farms. Starbucks went as far to confirm to the Guardian that “we have not purchased coffee from the farms in question during the most recent harvest season”; Nespresso told the same paper that it has “zero tolerance” for child labour.

These responses scan admirable but pull at a central problem with coffee supply — farms that use child labour are doing so because their adult workers are not being paid sufficiently; children are forced to work to try and get enough money for their family to live. Cutting out these farms treats child labour as a separate entity to a supply chain that skews against the farmer — the only viable solution is for these companies to pay prices for their coffee that compensates workers sufficiently. Starbucks and Nespresso, patently, are not there yet.

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