Slavery-flavored coffee: ImpACT condemns Nestlé and Starbucks for continuing to exploit child labor

London—Starbucks and Nestlé should be condemned for relying on child labor to harvest coffee beans in Guatemala, says ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies. The practice exploits children under the age of 13.

The London-based think tank called last year for governments and companies to do due diligence to ensure that supply chains were “clean” of child labor. However, an investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 recently revealed that children are still harvesting coffee beans for both Starbucks and Nespresso, which is owned by Nestlé. According to the investigation, the children work for 40 hours a week under harsh conditions, with wages not exceeding £5 (about $6.40) a day—only slightly more than a cup of coffee. 

The companies are violating standards set by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, by permitting child labor.

“Starbucks and Nestlé clearly value profits and cost efficiencies over human rights,” says Laura Hayek, a researcher at ImpACT International. “They are condoning what amounts to child slavery.”

According to the ILO, the worst and most common forms of child labor are found in agriculture, with coffee plantations often employing children to harvest the beans.

In September 2019, ImpACT International conducted a study that found that chocolate heavyweights such as Nestlé, Hershey’s and Mars were selling products made in part using child labor in western Africa. The study specifically revealed that thousands of children were being smuggled from neighboring countries to Ghana or the Ivory Coast to work in agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of children living in cocoa-growing areas work for extended hours in unfair working conditions, including insufficient food. They also experience physical violence or threats, especially if they try to escape.

A large number of these children are not paid. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of children who are not paid is double that of those who are.

ImpACT International once again calls on the governments in countries plagued by child labor, including Guatemala, to allocate funds to combat human trafficking and to impose strict controls on the practice. In addition, the London-based think tank calls on all major companies, including Nestlé and Starbucks, to assess their supply chains to ensure that the farms with which they work are free of child labor.

“Child labor and human trafficking prevents children from getting the education they need, stunt their growth and threaten their physical, intellectual and psychological health,” says Laura Hayek.

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies calls for the creation of a mechanism designed to hold companies accountable for violating human rights, including legal measures and monitoring capabilities. Since the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are not binding, legal avenues must be created that can effectively limit the abuse of children.

 

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