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Starbucks caught in child labor scandal: Children as young as 8 picked coffee beans on farms

Channel 4's Dispatches that aired on March 2, featured children working around 40-hour weeks in grueling conditions for daily wages barely above the cost of a Starbucks latte.

Starbucks caught in child labor scandal: Children as young as 8 picked coffee beans on farms
Image Source: The Starbucks logo is displayed in the window of a Starbucks Coffee shop on January 24, 2019, in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Starbucks has found itself in hot water yet again after a TV exposé of child labor scandal in Guatemala revealed that children under the age of 13 were filmed working on farms that supplied beans to the high street coffee shop giant. Channel 4's Dispatches that aired on March 2, featured children working around 40-hour weeks in grueling conditions for daily wages barely above the cost of a Starbucks latte. Nestlé's Nespresso has also been named in the scandal, following which actor George Clooney—the advertising face of the brand—praised the investigation while adding that he was deeply saddened by its findings.



 

Channel 4 revealed in a press release that its investigative documentary series team traveled to Guatemala after receiving information last year that coffee farms supplying Starbucks and Nespresso were employing children. As neither company publishes a list of suppliers, the Dispatches team posed as researchers scouting locations for a film showing where Britain's favorite coffee comes from. This gave them access to the farms suspected of child labor and reporters were able to capture video evidence supporting these allegations. Speaking to the children employed on these farms, they were reportedly informed that many of the kids were aged 11 or 12, although others looked as young as 8-years-old.



 

Reporters were told that the children worked up to six days a week and about eight hours a day in the heat while facing the threat of insect bites and even possible snake sightings. Their wage would be determined at the end of each day depending on the weight of the beans they picked. The children reportedly carry their heavy sacks of beans—weighing up to 100lbs—to a weighing area for this and reporters witnessed many struggling to do so.



 

Typically, a child would earn less than £5 ($6.40) a day, although sometimes it could be much lower than that. Over the course of the investigation, Dispatches visited seven farms linked to Nespresso and five linked to Starbucks and found children working in all of them. Oliver Holland—a human rights lawyer who saw the program—pointed out that based on the findings of the investigation, both companies were in breach of international labor regulations laid down by the UN’s International Labour Organization. "The conventions are very clear in that they don’t want children’s education to be compromised," said Holland.



 

"If children are working 40 hours a week, there is no way they can also be having a proper education. These are all unsafe conditions for children essentially, and in those conditions children simply shouldn’t be working," Holland added. Meanwhile, Clooney—the face of Nespresso—has now called on the company's board to take required actions based on the evidence collected by Dispatches. "Having grown up working on a tobacco farm from the time I was 12, I’m uniquely aware of the complex issues regarding farming and child labor. That’s why I joined the Sustainability advisory board of Nespresso seven years ago... with the goal then, as it remains to this day to improve the lives of farmers," the actor said in a statement.



 

"Make their farms more profitable. More sustainable. More safe. I’m enormously proud of the success of their efforts. They’ve improved the lives and livelihoods of thousands of farms all around the world... We knew it was a big project when it started 7 years ago, and honestly, I was surprised and saddened to see this story. Clearly this board and this company still have work to do. And that work will be done. I would hope that this reporter will continue to investigate these conditions and report accurately if they do not improve," he added.



 

A day before the investigative documentary aired on Channel 4, Starbucks issued a statement to its partners, customers, and all stakeholders, citing its "zero tolerance for child labor" policy. "We were deeply concerned when the show’s producers told us about the three farms they visited that may sell to Starbucks and what they witnessed. We immediately launched an investigation and confirmed that we have not purchased coffee from the farms in question during the most recent harvest season. We remain concerned and are taking action due to the fact that these farms were verified in 2019 to conform to our ethical sourcing standards, which are the most comprehensive in the coffee industry," the company stated.



 

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