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Soluble Promises: In Nestlé’s Coffee Business Only the Profits Are Sustainable

Nestlé’s Nescafé Plan, launched in 2010, aims to improve the lives and incomes of coffee farmers in Brazil and Mexico. However, research shows that many farmers cannot make ends meet on the low prices paid by Nestlé. The company’s voluntary initiatives do not go far enough in combating widespread poverty among coffee growers. Switzerland, which plays a powerful role in the global coffee market, must introduce stronger political regulation to ensure that Nestlé and other coffee companies take their global responsibilities seriously.

Nestlé, the world market leader, promises to “use its global scale for good” by selling only responsibly sourced coffee. However, research in Brazil and Mexico shows that the flagship program has barely brought any improvements to the lives of the people living there. Few checks are performed on the minimum requirements of the 4C standard and even fewer of the requirements are actually implemented.

Millions of coffee farmers and workers are far from earning a living income, not only in these two important coffee-growing regions but also worldwide. The imbalance of power between international companies like Nestlé and the producers of their raw materials is continuing to increase. Last week, the industry and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) launched the Swiss Sustainable Coffee Platform (SSCP), yet this multi-stakeholder approach leaves Switzerland lagging behind international developments. To effectively address the abuses in the coffee sector, political measures are needed that require companies to respect human rights and comply with environmental standards. One such measure is the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence directive, which was adopted in May.

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