On Coffee and Human Rights
I love school. Let me rephrase that: I love when the kid goes to school. I am SO over it for myself–Masters program was enough. Granted the kid is only in a half-day preschool, but I get excited for those three hours of quiet each day. And while I love the quiet, if I am really being honest, I might love my coffee – and the ability to sit at my computer and enjoy the full cup (or two) uninterrupted – more.
Our family loves beverages in general though. The husband brews beer and we have our wine clubs (yes, that is multiple). Our newest beverage addition was a Chemex pour over coffee maker. The husband, being a chemist by training, was very excited, and I get the pleasure of enjoying his delicious science experiments. Saturday mornings now involve scales, the pursuit of the perfect grind and coffee from Africa that produces the best flavor. We might have a problem.
Because of this love of coffee (I swear it’s not an addiction), I enjoy researching and finding awesome products and great independent coffee shops. For the love, I have too many opinions about coffee.
When you love something you learn about it. Even if you don’t like coffee, the global industry is so large and impacts so many people that this topic is still important. Like many other global industries this delicious beverage that so many of us love has a dark side. There is a cost – a human cost – for the coffee I enjoy every day.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor discovered widespread labor violations in coffee farms in Hawaii. Violations included “failures to pay workers minimum wage and overtime, exploiting migrant workers, illegally hiring coffee pickers as independent contractors, and exploiting children as young as 5 years old to pick coffee cherries.” This happened here, in the U.S.
Oxfam reports that in Kenya 30% of workers are below the age of 15 and to meet production quotas families are required to bring their children into the fields. Additionally, they are frequently not paid a living wage or provided reasonable living conditions. And because the same report shows that 75% of coffee production is done by small family farms, when coffee prices crashed in 2001 many families were left unable to pay for education and healthcare.
Additionally, there are forced labor issues….
- Verité carried out research in 2009 and 20011, discovering instances of forced labor in Guatemala among migrant workers, workers who lived near the farms, and workers who lived at farms year round.
- Anti-Slavery International, in a 2004 report on the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire, reported that children and young men “are under the control of the labor contractor and have often been trafficked from neighboring countries.”
- In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against four farms in Hawaii that employed Thai farm workers in a debt bondage situation from 2003 to 2007. The coffee companies involved agreed to pay a settlement to affected workers. A U.S.-based recruitment agency, Global Horizons, was also involved.
This is disturbing and it is just the tip of the iceberg.There are many people working in this area to help. I hope to be one of them. But the question is, are you willing to sacrifice human rights and safety of others in order to save money on your coffee?
I firmly believe that we should spend more on coffee that protects human rights. Our convenience is not worth the human suffering that comes along with it. Maybe your adventure is big and involves volunteering, starting an organization or campaigning. But for many of us an easy and effective way to create impact in this area is to buy coffee that is ethical and fair trade/direct-trade. Spend some time. Do your research. Buy ethically, even if it requires you to re-prioritize some of your spending. A life of impact can be as simple as being intentional with our resources and who we support.
I live in Arizona and love Provision Coffee, who works directly with farmers around the world to develop community and provide safe and fair working conditions. Peixoto focuses on direct trade. These coffees are sourced via a direct relationship between the farmer and importer. This not only ensures that the farmers receive a fair, quality-based price for their coffees but also that our customers are paying for the steps in the supply chain that add value…and nothing else. The Fair Trade Cafe in Phoenix has gotten great reviews. And I know there are options wherever you are–the internet is your friend!
I promise you will enjoy your coffee even more when you know it is ethically sourced and promoting human rights and dignity. Now it’s your turn! Share how you try and buy ethical with food and beverage. Share organizations that focus on impact not just profits.
And enjoy some ethical coffee while you are at it!