Waitrose removes coffee tins 'showing slaves working on plantations' after backlash

Waitrose has stopped selling tins of coffee carrying images that appeared to show slaves working on a plantation after a furious backlash.

The Saquella 1856 coffee cans were pulled from the supermarket chain’s shelves after Camden residents hit out at the “appalling” branding decision.

Waitrose apologised and said it would stop selling the product which appeared to show historic illustrations of black slaves harvesting beans in Guatemala until the company redesigned the packaging. 

Patriic Gayle, who spotted the offending tins in a Waitrose store in Bloomsbury, said it was shocking that the firm would think to use the images “positively”.

Offensive: The coffee tins appear to show slaves working on a plantation (Patriic Gayle/Gay Men’s Health Collective)

Mr Gayle said the jaws of the shop workers in store “dropped” when he informed them what the image on the product depicted.

They quickly removed them from view, he added.

“Why anyone would think it is okay for images like this to appear positively on a product is completely beyond me. In my opinion, it called in to question Waitrose’s values and understanding of customers’ expectations,” he said. 

“The staff in the Bloomsbury store were great, and tried to remove [the product], but they were back on the shelves the following day.”

After Mr Gayle took his concerns to Waitrose’s head office, the supermarket agreed to stop selling the coffee product.

Banned: The Saquella 1856 coffee cans were pulled Waitrose shelves (Patriic Gayle/Gay Men’s Health Collective)

Camden resident Annette Saunders, who led the campaign along with Mr Gayle, said the decision to halt sales was a “no brainer”.

She said: “It was the right thing to do… a no brainer. It was a victory for us and for equality.”

A Waitrose spokeswoman said the supermarket “fully understands” how the images could be interpreted and that the product was pulled from its stores in December.

In statement, the supermarket chain said: “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.”

The company told the Camden New Journal: “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.”

The Standard has approached Saquella 1856 for comment. 

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