Swiss-based Nestle — which together with Proctor & Gamble, Sarah Lee, and Kraft [the “big four”] distributes about half of the coffee on the planet — last year turned some $5 billion in profits. Ethiopia is the planet’s poorest nation, and is struggling with the worst famine its experienced in 20 years, as well as historically low prices for coffee, which supports about a quarter of Ethiopia’s population. This week, Nestle is demanding $6 million in payments from the government of Ethiopia… compensation for illegal “nationalization” maneuvers made by a former military government more than 25 years ago.

The government of Ethiopia — despite its vast political distance from the communist regime of a quarter century ago, and despite the fact that it is currently seeking emergency food aid for some 6 million starving citizens — has countered with a payment offer of $1.5 million… or roughly the amount of profit that Nestle makes in a day. Nestle has thus far refused to compromise.

It’s difficult to summon words suitable to the occasion… but the phrases “moral bankruptcy” and “depraved indifference” come to mind, right alongside “shocking malfeasance” and “unspeakable greed.”

Apparently these are not uniquely American values, after all.

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