George Clooney 'saddened' over child-labor claims at Nespresso

A U.K. documentary alleges that young children in Guatemala are forced to work long hours for little money picking coffee beans that help supply Nespresso.

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By Minyvonne Burke

George Clooney said he is "saddened" by child labor claims against coffee giant Nespresso and vowed that "work will be done."

"Honestly I was surprised and saddened to see this story," Clooney, a brand ambassador for Nespresso, said in a statement to NBC News, referring to an episode of "Dispatches," a U.K. documentary TV series, on child labor at coffee farms in Guatemala.

The show alleges that young children in Guatemala are forced to work long hours to pick coffee beans that help supply Nespresso and earn little more than the price of a pack of the brand's coffee pods.

"Clearly this board and this company still have work to do," Clooney said. "And that work will be done."

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According to a summary of the episode, titled "Starbucks & Nespresso: The Truth About Your Coffee," journalist Antony Barnett traveled to Guatemala to investigate how both coffee chains source their beans.

The episode will air Monday night in the U.K.

Nespresso CEO Guillaume Le Cunff said in a statement that the company has "zero tolerance of child labor" and that the claims would be investigated.

"Where there are claims that our high standards are not met, we act immediately," he said. "We've launched a thorough investigation to find out which farms were filmed and whether they supply Nespresso. We will not resume purchases of coffee from farms in this area until the investigation is closed.

"Any issues we uncover will be dealt with diligently and firm action will be taken," Le Cunff said, adding: "We will continue to do all we can to stamp child labor out. It has no place in our supply chain."

A spokesperson for Starbucks told NBC News in a statement Thursday that it has also begun an investigation.

"Starbucks has zero tolerance for child labor anywhere in our supply chain," the spokesperson said, adding that in the most recent harvest season, the company giant has not purchased coffee from the farms in question and will refrain from doing so until it can verify that the growers are not violating the company's ethical sourcing program.

"We care deeply about the well-being of our coffee farming communities, and we will take every measure to ensure these farms meet our high standards for ethical sourcing," the statement read.

Clooney, who is married to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, said Nespresso's Sustainability Advisory Board, which he serves on, has done a lot to improve coffee farming.

"They've risked their lives trying to rebuild farms in South Sudan and spent a year on the ground helping farmers restore their farms in Puerto Rico after the hurricane," he said in his statement. "The simple truth is that this program is overwhelmingly positive for coffee farmers around the world."

The actor encouraged Barnett to continue his investigation of working conditions and to "report accurately if they do not improve."

Clooney, 58, became a Nespresso brand ambassador in 2006, starring in ads in Europe and other international markets. In November 2015, the company announced that it was expanding his role to North American brand ambassador.