Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts admitted that they may have bought coffee beans from plantations in Brazil which use slaves for the making of high profits.
The report was made by Danwatch, an independent media and research center that publishes investigative reports focusing on Corporate Social Responsibility, human rights and environment.
Danwatch reported that Jacobs Douwe Egberts admitted that it is possible that coffee from plantations with medieval labor conditions ended up in their products, while world’s largest food firm, Nestle, acknowledged of having purchased coffee from two plantations where authorities freed workers from conditions analogous to slavery in 2015.
The most recent revelations about the use of slaves in the Brazilian coffee plantations which supply world’s largest coffee firms, were made by the Brazilian authorities. A Special Mobile Inspection Group at the Brazilian Ministry of Labor (MTE) has been created since 1995, which conducts surprise field inspections, in the company of federal and state police, and state prosecutors.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) website reported that when the MTE determines that workers have been subjected to conditions analogous to slavery, they carry out a “rescue” operation that requires employers to pay what they owe to workers. Since 2015, Brazil has rescued over 45,000 slaves. CRS reported that MTE Labor inspectors have been threatened, attacked and killed in the course of their work over the past two decades.
Denmark based, Danwatch, accompanied the Brazilian authorities in one of those inspections and found out that coffee from plantations with slavery-like conditions was purchased and resold by middlemen who supply the world’s largest coffee companies.
Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts corporations together account for about 40 percent of the global coffee market, Danwatch reported. Their brands include Nescafé, Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Taster’s Choice, Coffee Mate, Gevalia, Senseo, Jacobs, Maxwell House and Tassimo. Both companies admit that coffee from plantations where working conditions resembled slavery may have ended up in their products.
The Danish investigative team said that both Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts have adopted codes of conduct in which they require suppliers to adhere to a variety of international human rights conventions and to core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
“We are determined to tackle this complex problem in close collaboration with our suppliers, whom we have contacted”, Nestle said in a written statement.
Jacobs Douwe Egberts also stated that in the wake of Danwatch’s enquiries it had been in touch with all its suppliers to ask them to explain what steps they are taking to ensure that they do not purchase coffee from plantations with slavery-like working conditions.
Dangerous pesticides used in the coffee plantations
Aside from the problem of slavery-like working conditions, the tortured workers were forced to use pesticides that cause illness and are potentially lethal. Some of the pesticides are so toxic that merely getting them on your skin can kill you, the Danwatch report says.
“These chemicals are outlawed in Denmark and the EU because they are extremely toxic and can cause serious acute and long-term health problems”, says Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the Clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.
Danwatch has interviewed Brazilian coffee workers who have applied pesticides without sufficient protective equipment, and who today complain of hands that won’t obey them and feet that feel as though they are asleep.
Children pick coffee in Brazil
Danwatch’s investigation also shows that child labor is still a problem on Brazilian coffee plantations. At an inspection observed by Danwatch in July 2015, two boys aged 14 and 15 were found to have been picking coffee and freed from slavery-like working conditions.
In addition to the serious issues of child labor, deadly pesticides and slavery-like working conditions, Brazil’s coffee industry is beset by a number of other problems, Danwatch said. Brazilian labor organizations estimate that as many as half of all coffee workers work without contracts, and mention other challenges, such as underpayment and serious workplace injuries, as well.