Waitrose forced to remove ‘slavery’ coffee tins from shelves
Exclusive: Campaigners in Bloomsbury convince coffee makers and retail giants to think again over plantation images
10 January, 2018 — By William McLennan
SUPERMARKET chain Waitrose has been forced to stop selling tins of coffee that appear to bear images of slaves working on plantations, following a backlash from shoppers in Bloomsbury.
The Italian beans were pulled from shelves across the country after horrified customers at the store in the Brunswick Centre took their complaint to the top of the upmarket grocer.
Patriic Gayle, who orchestrated the campaign with his friend Annette Saunders, said they were “incandescent” when they realised the cans of Saquella 1856 coffee depicted historic images of black slaves harvesting beans in the Central American country Guatemala.
He said: “I noticed a new tin with pretty packaging, so I checked it out. I looked a little closer and suddenly thought, oh my God, these are slaves on a plantation. In one, you have got a white plantation owner looking at the slaves. It just about ticked all the horror boxes you can imagine.”
Mr Gayle immediately complained to staff at the store, who he said were “shocked and appalled,” adding: “Their jaws dropped when I told them. They even tried to take it off the shelves, but it was put back the next day.” He then contacted customer services, but with no action taken a week later, appealed directly to Waitrose managing director, Rob Collins.
Shortly after sending the email, which was also addressed to the New Journal and Bloomsbury ward councillors, the store agreed to remove all the offensive products from their shelves.
Mr Gayle said: “At first I got very cross with mealy-mouthed customer service. I just wanted them to say we have screwed up on this and do the right thing, but for a week I had this nonsense. “
He added: “It’s a small victory, but in today’s climate I think it was one that was worth pursuing.”
Labour councillor Rishi Madlani, who also wrote to Waitrose, said he was “proud to see Bloomsbury residents spot the offensive items and not take no for an answer,” adding: “I’m pleased that Waitrose HQ have eventually done the right thing and removed the suspect packaging.”
Waitrose said in a statement: “We are sorry for any offence caused by the images that were shown on these products. We’ve spoken to the supplier who has explained that the images were intended to depict how coffee was historically harvested and traded. However, we fully understand how these could be interpreted and removed both products from sale in December until the supplier has had the opportunity to redesign the packaging.”
A statement from Saquella 1856 said: “We apologise to anyone that was offended by the images. As a Fairtrade accredited and EFSIS ethical standard approved business, we were shocked to learn they had been interpreted in this way and the products were removed from sale in December.”