Nespresso's recent B-Corp certification collects the lively protests of civil society, in the face of recent investigations that demonstrate serious abuses on human rights and the environment.
1) Introduction. The B-Corp certification
B-Corp is a private certification scheme for the social and environmental commitments of organizations that decide to support ESG objectives (Environmental, Social, Governance) to the company's own objective, to generate profits. (1)
Certification, entrusted to Accredited B-Labs, today certifies the socio-environmental impact of 5.366 companies in 84 countries. Regardless of them status benefit company attorney, or benefit corporation, currently provided for only in the US and Italian legislation.
2) Risk greenwashing
The risk greenwashing - in the case of B-Corp, as in Code of Conduct European (2) and most of the proclamations and certifications on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and sustainability (3) - it is almost inevitable. To the extent that:
- the declarations are not actually proved, perhaps through incorruptible registers such as the systems of blockchain public, (4)
- the declared commitments are consistent with the organization's strategies at each stage of the supply chain, in a true CSR logic (Corporate Sustainability Reporting), (one)
- false or misleading communications and certifications are not subject to dissuasive economic sanctions, as well as to Name and Shame. (6)
3) Nespresso, human rights abuses
Fair World Project expressed a fierce criticism of the B-Corp certification issued to Nespresso. (7) A Nestlé group company that has a recent history of human rights abuses, including to the detriment of minors. In particular, the investigations into:
- child exploitation of children aged 8 to 13, forced to work 8 hours a day in conditions of slavery to collect and load coffee in 45 kg bags, in Guatemala, (8)
- the theft of wages, up to a third of the wages due to workers, and inhumane working conditions in the largest cooperative in Mina Gerais (Brazil), which includes 720 companies that supply coffee to Nespresso, (9)
- grueling shifts, up to peaks of 58-80 hours a week, even in the Swiss industries of Avenches, Orbe and Romont. (10)
4) Nespresso, environment and health
The environmental impact of Nespresso capsules is itself disastrous, as we have seen. (11) Billions of primary and secondary disposable packaging, kept in voluminous caskets, travel the world to distribute single doses of a few grams of coffee. Without even paying attention to the actual recycling of materials with special collection channels.
Health of consumers would also deserve further investigation. If only the authorities responsible for the scientific assessment of food safety risks wanted to consider the presence, in coffee in capsules, of carcinogenic and genotoxic organic compounds (furans, methylfurans) in quantities up to 10 times higher than ground coffee. (11)
5) Nespresso, the B-Corp certification
Nespresso - despite documented human rights abuses and considerations on the environmental impact of its capsules - it has achieved B-Corp certification. Insufficient scores in five areas of the impact assessment were in fact offset by favorable scores on various procedures and paperwork.
Il greenwashing it is thus served in George Clooney's steaming cup. Who, after the news of the slave children in Guatemala, said he was 'sorry'. (8) Investors are not even sorry, in spite of the talk about the so-called 'responsible investments'. Provided that the business be profitable, as indeed it is (Nestle SA, NSRGY: OTCPK).
6) Open letter to the B-Lab
Civil society - thanks to the initiative of Fair World Project, control body of the homonymous circuit certification fair trade - wrote an open letter to the Global B-Lab, asking for a reform of the B-Corp certification standard. (12)
'A wellness plan for office workers in developed countries it cannot compensate for the abuse of workers in the economies of developing countries'.
The abuses on fundamental human rights, the rights of minors and communities, the land grabbing they are not compatible with a certification that boasts the reference to 'social mission'. Stanford University had already published a lucid analysis on the subject (Joanne Bauer, Elizabeth Humlas, 2017). Without, however, obtaining a necessary response (13,14).
7) Unfair competition
More than 30 companies certified B-Corp have joined the open letter of Fair World Project. ‘While we believe that B Corp standards can help our economy transition to an economy that is good for both people and the planet, certification now runs the risk of 'cleaning up ethics'. of large conglomerates. This is an extreme disappointment'(Michael Bronner).
Unfair competition caused by B-Lab is obvious to small companies also certified B-Corp such as Peace Coffee, which has always supplied organic coffee fair trade and reinvests profits with farmer cooperatives and local communities. On the other hand, the B-Corp brand is also the pride of Whole Foods, of which the mistreatment of animals and the repression of dissent are remembered. (15)
8) Provisional conclusions
B-Lab is at a crossroads, exclude from the B-Corp certification companies that do not guarantee full compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the ILO Conventions (International Labor Organization) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or permanently lose credibility.
Cover image from Channel 4's Dispatches video. Dispatches Starbucks and espresso the truth about your coffee. 3.3.20 Dispatches Starbucks and Nespresso the truth about your coffeeYouTube Terramaterr WorldMar 3, 2020
(1) B Corp and Benefit Companies - Table.
(2) Dario Dongo. EU Code of Conduct, Responsible Business and Marketing Practices or Greenwashing? GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.7.21,
(3) Marta Strinati. Palm oil, soy, wood, coffee, cocoa. What is sustainability certification for? Greenpeace report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.5.21,
(4) Dario Dongo. Public blockchain and agri-food chain, sustainability for those who produce and those who consume. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 28.2.21,
(5) Dario Dongo. Sustainability report, ESG and due diligence. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.7.22,
(6) Dario Dongo. Green claim vs greenwashing and misleading advertising, UK Antitrust guidelines. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.6.21,
(7) Anna Cunning. Nespresso: Known for Human Rights Violations, Now B Corp Certified. Fair World Project. 5.4.22,
(8) Antony Barnett. Dispatches: Starbucks and Nespresso: The Truth About Your Coffee. Channel 4. 1.3.20,
(9) Daniel Camargos. Labor inspectors fine leader of cooperative that supplies coffee to Nespresso and Starbucks. Repórter Brasil. 9.9.21,
(10) Rachel Richterich. Chez Nespresso, des travailleurs "épuisés". The Temps. 11.2.20,
(11) Dario Dongo. Coffee in capsules, environmental costs and health risks. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.6.19,
(12) Fair World Project. The B Corp Standard is at Risk. 15.6.21,
(13) Joanne Bauer, Elizabeth Humlas. Do Benefit Corporations Respect Human Rights? Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2017.
(14) Matthew Mullen. The B-Lab is wrong about human rights - but there's a fix. Open Democracy. 10.3.20,
(15) Dario Dongo. Whole Foods, Amazon. Animal abuse and suppression of dissent, a petition. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.1.19,