On 21 August 2018, the union ADERE MG and the NGO Conectas Human Rights filed a complaint with the Brazilian NCP against six multinational coffee brands. The complainants argue that Nestlé, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Illy have not taken proper steps to address risks of forced labor and other rights violations in their supply chains. The NCPs of the home countries of the involved businesses (United States, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy) have also been informed of the complaint.
According to the complainants, the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is a key location for coffee supply chains. It produces more than half of the coffee exported by Brazil, which is one of the biggest coffee producers in the world. However, the complaint asserts that Minas Gerais is also a high-risk area for labor and human rights violations. In the past three years, authorities have rescued 820 workers from conditions analogous to slavery at the state. The situation has been aggravated due to budget cuts that led to decreased state monitoring.
In 2016, reports by independent media and research centre Danwatch and Reporter Brasil demonstrated that suppliers of Nestlé, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Illy might have been involved with modern slavery. According to the complainants, the nature of each company’s link to the violation varies: while in certain instances the company commercialized coffee which might have been produced by workers subject to forced labor, other companies only maintained relations with cooperatives that did so.
Since then, the complainants have been monitoring the working conditions in coffee farms in the region, documenting several instances of forced labor and other serious labor rights violations. ADERE and Conectas reached out to the six coffee brands, asking whether they could guarantee that they had not bought coffee produced in the farms where these violations occurred. The organizations also requested a list of suppliers, and asked which measures the companies had adopted to fix the flaws exposed by the 2016 reports. The complainants assert that although some of the companies responded, none publicized their supplier list, nor indicated measures adopted to ensure remedy for victims and correct norms and policies in view of past flaws.
The complaint asserts that Nestlé, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Illy have violated several provisions of the OECD Guidelines, international human rights law, and Brazilian legislation, in connection with this situation. ADERE and Conectas call for the six brands to provide remedy to victims, and to work collaboratively with complainants and other stakeholders to develop a joint action plan to prevent future cases of modern slavery in coffee farms in Minas Gerais.
On 12 September 2018, the Brazilian NCP acknowledged receipt of the complaint. In early 2019, it informed Conectas by telephone that it had accepted the case, and requested that the complainants separate the complaint into six separate cases to facilitate the mediation process with each individual company. The complainants honoured this request and agreed to split the complaint into six separate cases.
However, during a meeting between the complainants and NCP at the end of 2019, the NCP unexpectedly retracted its earlier statement and claimed that it had not officially accepted the complaint for good offices, and that it was still analysing the complaint. From that point forward, the complainants sought to ensure that communication with the NCP take place over email or written correspondence, to maintain a clear record of the NCP’s atypical commitments and process.
In April 2020, the Brazilian NCP asserted it had received responses from four of the companies (Dunkin’ Donuts, Jacob Egberts, Mc Donald’s and Nestlé). The NCP said it had accepted those four complaints and would ask for more information from the companies. At that point in time it was unclear whether the complaints against Illy and Starbucks were accepted.
In October 2020 the NCP confirmed that it had rejected the complaints against Illy and Starbucks, on grounds that there was no “proof” the two companies sourced coffee from the farms on which problems were reported. Complainants assert they had sent additional evidence showing a link between Starbucks and the farms, but the NCP said it came too late and should be submitted as a separate complaint. OECD Watch asserts that the evidence should have been allowed into the complaint process, and that the standard of proof required at the initial assessment stage was too high.
- Conectas Human Rights & ADERE MG v. McDonald’s
- Conectas Human Rights & ADERE MG v. Jacobs Douwe Egberts
- Conectas Human Rights & ADERE MG v. Dunkin Donuts
- Conectas Human Rights & ADERE MG v. Nestlé
- Conectas Human Rights & ADERE MG v. Illy