Nespresso finds child labour at Guatemalan coffee farms

RIO DE JANEIRO: Nespresso, the maker of coffee brewing pods and machines, found child labour at three farms where it buys coffee in Guatemala, the company said on Thursday, also announcing it implemented a prevention plan to ward off potential further abuse.

The Nestle-owned coffee giant uncovered child labour at three of the 374 coffee farms where it buys coffee in Guatemala’s central-southern Fraijanes region, it said in a statement.

The company was under scrutiny after Britain’s Channel 4 News last month reported finding children working on six farms where Nespresso allegedly sourced coffee.

Guatemala is the largest coffee producer in Central America, and the Fraijanes region is one of the country’s major producing regions.

The news report prompted Nespresso to conduct its own investigation, the company said.

“We have acted quickly not only to investigate the issue, but also to implement immediate, concrete actions to address it,” said Guillaume Le Cunff, chief executive of Nespresso, in a statement.

Nespresso did not specify whether the three farms were among the six cited by Channel 4 News, and the company did not reply to a request for comment from Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The company said it would double the number of agronomists it employed in the region to check on conditions on local farms, improve a programme providing safe spaces for children during harvest season and increase education and awareness programmes.

It also said it would set up a hotline for reporting suspected violations and stop buying coffee from the three farms until they provided proof of compliance with International Labour Organization’s child protection requirements.

Campaigners against child labour said Nespresso’s measures fell short.

“You need to have decent wages to farmers and farm workers, and that is the opposite what their business model is,” said Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, an advocate with Cafe for Change, an initiative that campaigns for fair wages in the coffee industry.

In its statement, Nespresso said it pays the highest price in the region for coffee.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in December found that coffee produced by forced labour in Brazil was stamped slavery-free by top certification schemes and sold at a premium to major brands like Nespresso.