Burning coffee sacks in Chiapas: Desperate farmers protest against Nestlé's low purchase prices

Since 2010 the Nescafé Plan has promised coffee producers more income and a better life, including in Mexico. However, our field research in the federal state of Chiapas shows that farming families participating in this sustainability project cannot make ends meet and feel betrayed by Nestlé. Their main accusation is that for years the Swiss market leader has been paying prices, which scarcely cover production costs. This is why Nescafé sacks are now burning in the Soconusco coffee region.
© Damián Sánchez / Public Eye

For more than ten years now Nestlé has been pushing the farms in Chiapas to convert to cultivating Robusta coffee, which, in comparison with the Arabica traditionally grown there, earns lower prices on the world market, but which the corporation needs for its Nescafé instant coffee. In 2022 Nestlé opened a new Nescafé factory in Mexico with an annual capacity of 40’000 tons of green coffee. In February 2024, when Public Eye was investigating on site, farmers were holding protests in Tapachula, where they were burning filled coffee sacks labelled "Nescafé Plan". One of the banners stated that the "company without ethics" was driving Chiapas into poverty. The raw material that Nestlé buys here is marketed as "responsibly produced": according to the promises from Switzerland, farmers benefit from training courses and particularly high-yielding Robusta seedlings as part of the “Nescafé Plan” and thus achieve a higher standard of living. 

However, Nestlé is practising a ruthless purchasing policy. In this year’s harvest season the food giant is paying prices, which are below production costs and lower in real terms than one year previously. In the same period, however, the Robusta market price has risen by 50% and farmers are struggling with higher production costs. Even so, Nestlé has not yet complied with their demand for a minimum price that at least covers current costs. This behaviour illustrates the inequality of power between the market leader and its suppliers. In a petition, the affected farming families are demanding from Nestlé to finally pay them fairly. 

Just under half of all coffee farmers worldwide are still living in poverty. And half of them even in extreme poverty, which means with less than USD 1.90 per day.  Public Eye also observed this in Chiapas, where half a year after the harvest many of the families working small farms have already run out of money and therefore of food. The low price, which the farmers are paid for the coffee, is the main reason for the widespread poverty, which engenders further problems, such as child labour and other human rights abuses. 

The right to a living income is an internationally acknowledged human right. In its "Living Income Action Plan", Nestlé gives the assurance that this right is also fostered by the Nescafé Plan. But its systematic price squeeze is fundamentally at odds with this commitment. The law on corporate responsibility proposed by the EU, which is due to be passed this year, provides that as part of their due diligence obligations companies must also respect the right to a living income. Switzerland must also close existing legal loopholes and ensure the introduction and effective enforcement of rules on respect for human and environmental rights by corporations. 

For more information contact: 

Oliver Classen, Media director, + 41 (0) 44 277 79 06, oliver.classen@publiceye.ch  
Carla Hoinkes, Agricultural expert, +41 (0) 44 277 79 04, carla.hoinkes@publiceye.ch