Where Does Your Coffee Come From?

It might be worth asking a few questions to find out. According to a recent press release from the World Wildlife Fund, there is a great deal of coffee being grown illegally in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBS), reducing the amount of habitat available to endangered species such as tigers, elephants, and rhinos.

According to the WWF:

Bukit Barisan Selatan, a World Heritage Site on the southern tip of Sumatra Island, is one of the few protected areas where Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. It has already lost nearly 30 percent of its forest cover to illegal agriculture, most of which is for coffee production.


Illegally grown coffee from Indonesia is mixed with legally grown coffee beans and sold to such companies as Kraft Foods and Nestle among other major companies in the U.S. and abroad.

It is easy for the illegally grown coffee to get to market because

Indonesia is the world’s second-largest exporter of robusta, a kind of bean often used in instant and packaged coffee sold in supermarkets. At least half the country’s coffee is exported through the port of Lampung, adjacent to the national park.

According to the full report,

Just seven countries received two-thirds of all Lampung coffee exports tainted with BBSNP beans in 2005: Germany received 19 per cent, the United States 17 per cent, Japan 8 per cent, Italy and Algeria 6 per cent [each], India 5 per cent, and the UK 4 per cent.

Companies alleged to have received the tainted beans have had a mixed reaction.

Some companies are currently in discussion with WWF on how to avoid purchases of illegally grown coffee, boost production of sustainably grown coffee and restore wildlife habitat in the park, while others have denied any purchasing of illegally grown coffee.

Production methods used to grow coffee have been a contentious issue for years, leading to the rise of Fair Trade labels that seek to guarantee that their wares were grown under humane and environmentally responsible conditions. None of the Fair Trade labels have been implicated in this report. Instead, it seems that the companies named are large holding companies and multinationals. The chart showing the major importers is disappointingly difficult to read, but the report states that “…the biggest overall recipient appeared to be Kraft Foods, either directly or through its respective traders” (26). Other companies named appear to be (any typos are based on the small print of the chart being so difficult to read, even when printed and examined with a magnifying glass): Taboca AG, Andica, Maruboni Corp. Tokyo, Ed & Man Holding, American Coffee Corp., Bornhard Rothfoe, Hamburg Coffee Company, Luigi Vazza Spa, and Mochu Corp.

Kraft’s Coffee brands include Maxwell House and Gevalia. Kraft has been listed on the Ethibel Sustainability Index and has an Environmental Policy that states, in part, “Kraft Foods is committed to reducing the environmental impact of our activities, preventing pollution and promoting the sustainability of the natural resources upon which we depend….” Therefore, I must assume that Kraft is one of the companies open to working with the WWF to eliminate illegally grown beans from their purchases, but it doesn’t hurt to let them know you’re against coffee being grown in wildlife refuges.

American Coffee Company is a bulk coffee trader founded in 1992 in a partnership with Hamburg Coffee Corporation. I have tried to register to read their newsletter and research, but the company does not grant immediate access to that information. Instead, I was told “Thank you for registering for access to the AMERICAN COFFEE CORPORATION research web area. We will be in contact with you with 72 hours. Please contact us at webenquiry@amcof.com if you have any immediate questions.” Thus, they are probably immune to the pressures of consumer sentiment, but feel free to register for their newsletter (Hint: don’t list your industry as ‘other,’ that triggers an error message) and email them at the address they provided.

3 Responses to “Where Does Your Coffee Come From?”

  1. jwsharrard Says:

    Ed & Man Holding, one of the other companies named on the chart in the full report, is an approved supplier of Fair Trade coffee. However, the chart shows that they have divested themselves of the practice of purchasing coffee tainted with illegal beans: though they purchased over 9,500 metric tons of coffee tainted with beans from BSBNP in 2003, they got only 874 metric tons of such coffee in 2004, and none of it in 2005.

  2. Kerstin Says:

    Thanks for the information! It is always helpful to know what I’m purchasing, and how it affects others. I’ve already written to Kraft and Nestle requesting them to look into their coffee suppliers!

    I just recently found your blog and love reading it - I always learn from your posts. Thanks for teaching us so diligently and not giving up on us!

  3. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Kraft’s Apparently Automatic Response Says:

    [...] I submitted a comment via Kraft’s website expressing my concerns about some of their coffee having been grown illegally in land set aside by the Indonesian government as a preserve for endangered species. Here’s the response I got back: Thank you for visiting http://www.kraft.com/responsibility. [...]

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