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The Dark Side To Coffee Production

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily — it’s simple to just buy it from our local Starbucks. It may seem easy for us but it certainly isn’t for coffee farmers in countries like Ethiopia and Brazil, where they are being exploited.

With the global population demanding more of this famous beverage, these farmers are more susceptible to the violation of their human rights. Higher demand for coffee equates to foreign businesses employing more farmers, who are then paid lower due to there being a lot of workers. More farmers will be exposed to unsafe working conditions and an increased rate of illegal labour practices will occur as companies require more coffee. In some areas, farmers are paid as little as $0.60 and $1.10 per pound. They then cannot provide for the needs of themselves and their families.

One horrifying instance of slave labour occurred in Córrego das Almas farm in Piumhi. After much investigation, it was found that the big brand company Starbucks owned the plantation and was abusing farmers’ human rights.

“We weren’t paid for holidays, Sundays, nothing. And we worked from Monday to Saturday with no record of the hours. During the week, we would start at 6 a.m. and only stop at 5 p.m.,” one labourer stated.

Workers on the farm were paid scarce wages, living with inadequate money and provided with polluted water to drink. Animals were seen all around the coffee farm – bats in drinking water and rats found consuming the little food farmers could purchase. Hygiene was extremely atrocious and was considered detrimental to the workers’ health.

The manager of the farm, Fabiana Soares, proclaimed that she was appalled with the state of the farm. Starbucks issued the following statement, “We are already investigating this matter and will continue to pay very close attention to issuances from the Ministry of [Brazilian] Labour and Employment and communicate expectations to our suppliers that no farm on the list may supply coffee to Starbucks.” Ultimately, investigators fortunately rescued 18 workers at risk from the farm.

These farmers should be entitled to their human rights as we are in our Third World countries. Out of 18 million small-scale coffee farmers, barely any are paid as much as it is necessary to live safe and healthy lifestyles. It is our duty to ensure this happens through laws and enforcement. We drink coffee from major corporate companies, Pret A Manger, Costa, Nestle, Starbucks, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, who treat farmers unfairly – the more coffee our population drinks, the more these companies are susceptible to exploit.

Coffee drinkers should commit to only drinking certified brands ensuring that businesses have a low demand for coffee, resulting in lower rates of exploitation. Supporting the Fairtrade label and Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, will mean that these farmers are treated fairly. In addition, stronger laws must be put into action and the activities of companies exploiting workers should be tracked – this also opens up more job opportunities. If a company is found abusing these farmers rights, a severe fine can be placed, some of their branches can be taken and in extreme cases, such as child labour, a prosecution can be used.

We can all work to reduce this and ensure coffee farmers are entitled to their human rights!

Photo: NordWood Themes

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