Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post discussing a World Wildlife Fund report revealing that robusta coffee was being illegally grown in southern Sumatra, with most being purchased by large coffee producers such as Kraft and Nestlé (press release here, full PDF here). That report focused on coffee being grown inside Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung province.
Earlier this week, ABC News carried a report on the plight of wild elephants in Sumatra. The story updated the situation at Bukit Barisan, and reported that only 4 elephants out of 60 still survive there. ABC said:
The national park is a protected forest, but a lot of it has been burned and cleared to grow Robusta coffee beans. These beans are commonly used in Europe and North America to make instant coffee.
Nestlé, which makes Nescafe, buys coffee from the region — 40 percent of it from local traders.
A Nestlé spokesman told ABC News, “It might come — we have no way of knowing — from illegal sources. Law enforcement is not our task.”
In a follow-up post, I provided and update, in which Nestlé admitted the “difficulty of determining the precise origin” of its coffee. The company promised a year ago to increase the scrutiny of its Indonesian sources to make sure it didn’t buy illegally grown beans and launch an effort to clean up its supply chain.
If Nestlé hasn’t bothered to clean up its act, there’s a good reason: consumers are not penalizing them for their poor behavior. For the first nine months of 2007, since the first reports about the illegal coffee came to light, the Nestlé division that includes Nescafe and other coffees grew 10%, with sales — just in this division — of over US$11 billion. It’s not just Nestlé, Kraft’s North American beverage division also posted a 5.3% gain in net revenues in the third quarter of 2007.
As long as people buy these coffees, they will continued to be produced, no matter how much habitat and wildlife gets destroyed, or how many growers become impoverished. The large multinational corporations that bring us our dirt cheap coffee are motivated by profits. Do you buy this coffee? What motivates you?
Photo of robusta coffee growing in the sun in southern Sumatra, from Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.