Nestlé is the world’s largest food company, with 2011 sales of $94 billion. Some of the most popular of their many coffee brands are Nescafé, Nespresso, and Taster’s Choice. The company buys upwards of 850,000 tons of coffee annually, of which less than 1% is eco-certified.
Nestlé’s most recent corporate responsibility report, Creating Shared Value 2011 (PDF), makes some specific statements about what this big multinational company thinks about sustainability certification.
The company presents its overall position in a section titled Third-party certifications and Responsible Sourcing: “Certification is not an end point in itself, and only one of several ways of Creating Shared Value, promoting sustainable rural development and progressing other development goals in an effective and holistic way.”
In the section specifially devoted to coffee, there is a sub-section titled Marketing certified coffee to consumers. Here’s what it says:
Currently, there are no plans to market certified coffee to consumers (ie, coffee carrying a certification seal on the label). We believe that our own Responsible Sourcing Platform, which combines in-house codes and guidelines, capacity-building teams for key commodities and suppliers, NGO and industry partnerships and third-party certifications, offers a more targeted approach than certification alone.”
Unfortunately for consumers, Nestlé offers few details on their “Responsible Sourcing Platform” so that we can judge whether we think their coffee is really grown in a sustainable manner. They do mention that the “Nestlé Supplier Code is an integral part of any green coffee contract.” This document is publicly available (PDF). It’s easy reading. In fact, it’s only 6 pages, three of which are the covers and title page. Here are the sections on Sustainability and Environment, in their entirety:
- Sustainability Nestlé supports and encourages operating practices, farming practices and agricultural production systems that are sustainable. This is an integral part of Nestlé’s supply strategy and supplier development. Nestlé expects the Supplier to Nestlé to continuously strive towards improving the efficiency and sustainability of its operations, which will include water conservation programs.
- Environment The Supplier must operate with care for the environment and ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in the country where products or services are manufactured or delivered.
That’s it. Nothing specific, no standards, guidelines, or benchmarks. In contrast, the basic farm standard of Rainforest Alliance runs 49 pages. Starbucks CAFE Practices has 7 pages of criteria just devoted to environmental leadership for its coffee suppliers.
Nestlé states that “For coffee, biodiversity issues are managed primarily through the use of the 4C Coffee Code and the Nespresso Sustainable Quality AAA programme for coffee sourcing.” Please read this post to learn how 4C compliance merely indicates marginal standards of human and environmental decency. As for the AAA Sustainable Quality program, the company has provided no public details on any of the standards or criteria.
Maybe there’s more to their sourcing guidelines, and they include fabulous safeguards for the environment. I assume if that were the case they’d be making sure we know every last detail, and their coffee would easily qualify for various certifications that consumers would recognize and understand. But Nestlé has made it clear they are not interested in these certifications, and that their way is better. Whatever that is; we’re supposed to take their word for it.