The next time you’re at death’s door while cramming in the Robert W. Woodruff Library, you may want to reconsider ordering that $4 blast of caffeine from Peet’s Coffee.
The coffee chain’s controlling shareholders once profited from forced labor in Nazi Germany, according to a report by the German newspaper Bild. And until the company lays out a satisfactory plan for reparations, Emory should decline to continue working with the firm.
The JAB Holding Company, the German Reimann family’s “investment vehicle,” bought Peet’s Coffee & Tea for $975 million in 2012. In the Nazi era, the Reimanns forced French prisoners of war and Russian civilians to work at their industrial chemical facilities. Albert Reimann Jr., who inherited the family business in 1952, even complained that the French POWs were not working hard enough. Although Reimann Jr. died in 1984, he was responsible for adding consumer goods including dishwasher detergent that once underpinned JAB Holdings’ portfolio. Since then, the firm has expanded into the American coffee market. In case you’re looking for replacements to Peet’s, JAB Holdings purchased Krispy Kreme for $1.35 billion in 2016, and it bought out Panera Bread for $7.5 billion in 2017. It also purchased Keurig Green Mountain, now Keurig Dr. Pepper, for $13.9 billion in 2015.
JAB Holdings managing partner and Reimann family spokesman Peter Harf conceded the family’s guilt.
“Reimann Sr. and Reimann Jr. were guilty,” he told Bild. “The two men have passed away, but they actually belonged in prison.” Harf added that none of their 175 forced laborers were ever compensated after the fact.
As an act of reparation, Harf assured Bild that JAB Holdings would contribute $11 million to a “suitable organization,” but not to the descendants of the forced laborers themselves. That number is barely one percent of the $975 million that the firm spent to acquire Peet’s, and it’s dwarfed by the amount JAB Holdings paid for Keurig and Panera. Harf’s assurances also pale in comparison to the “secretive” family’s overall wealth, which the AFP estimates to be around $37 billion, $15 billion more than American mogul Elon Musk’s net worth.
With such immense wealth, the $11 million charitable contribution offered by Harf seems like a disingenuous afterthought, and it fails to address the atrocities that the Reimann family were party to. Other German corporations have paid far more for their mistakes: Daimler-Benz, now Mercedes-Benz, paid $12 million to forced laborers and their families in 1988, which is $26 million in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation; Volkswagen gave forced laborers $12 million in 1998, which translates to $18.6 million today.
Worse, JAB Holdings only assured that the relatively small amount of money would go to a “suitable organization,” but both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen instead chose to give funds to the families of forced laborers. While identifying the relatives of the 175 individuals forced to work under the Reimanns may be difficult, JAB Holdings should be held to the same standard. They can probably afford it.
Since Emory hosts only one Peet’s location, it may not have much bargaining power with JAB Holdings. But Peet’s predecessor, Jazzman’s Cafe, was removed merely for failing to satisfy students’ food preferences, and its staff was unaffected by the changeover in branding. JAB Holdings’ history constitutes a much more substantive reason for Emory to sever ties with a business partner.
If Peet’s corporate owners fail to pay reparations comparable to those that other Nazi collaborators have paid, the University should end its contract and seek out another, more socially-conscious coffee provider.
Isaiah Sirois (19C) is from Nashua, N.H.