The Negative Side Of Coffee Production

Coffee is said to be the most popular beverage consumed in the first world countries, but is grown in the third world countries. There are two varieties of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. The former is considered of superior quality and is mostly supplied from Latin America. Whereas the latter is from Brazil and Uganda. United States is considered to be largest consumer of coffee worldwide. Coffee is bound by a long history of slavery and colonialism, and the production of the crop remains in place for exploitation and environmental degradation to this day. While coffee is the second most popular commodity after oil and generates huge profit for coffee companies, it is very important that we as consumers make ourselves aware of the difficult working and living conditions of coffee growers and animals to ensure that we consume ethical coffee products.

Coffee producers usually earn only 7-10% of the retail price of coffee. But in Brazil workers earn only 2% of the retail price. To earn enough for survival, many parents make their children work on the coffee plantation. When the price of coffee rises, it motivates the struggling families to remove their children from school and send them to work for better returns and when the condition is opposite the same can happen. Children maintain a cycle of poverty over generations. A study in Brazil found that child labour rates were approximately 37% higher — and school enrolment 3% lower — than average in regions where coffee is produced. Young children as young as six years of age have to work for eight to ten hours a day. They also become exposed to many health and safety hazards of coffee harvesting and its processing, like sun exposure and injuries. Children are also hired as waged labourers and are therefore paid less than adult male worker. In Kenya, these ‘casual’ workers only make about $12 a month. Regulations against child labour do exist in coffee producing countries, but the economic pressure makes the authorities in those areas reluctant to enforce the law.

Coffee workers are productively made enslaved through debt peonage i. e. forced labour. Elite in coffee producing regions own large plantation with permanent workers. Since they earn less then minimum wages and had to pay inflated prices at estate shops, workers are left with nothing to show their long hours of hard physical labour. They are forced to work as payment for their debts. They are pushed into debts by renting land or emergency healthcare. A study at Guatemala found that majority of people didn’t received overtime pay or employee benefits by law. Nearly half were paid less than Guatemala’s minimum wage. Focus groups were conducted for same study and it revealed instances of discrimination against women, unsanitary living environments, child labour, and a lack of both legally-required health and safety initiatives and access to education. In Brazil, hundreds of workers are rescued from slave-like conditions annually. In 2016, Nestle one of the worlds largest coffee company, said that slave labour is a risk in their Brazilian supply of coffee. Nestle accepted that they purchased coffee from two plantations with known forced labour.

Recent development in coffee trade is the practice of feeding coffee beans to the animals and then using the excreted beans for consumption. Kopi Luwak, for example, is an Indonesian coffee produced by feeding coffee beans to the Asian Palm Civet, a small mammal in the jungles of Asia. It is said to be the most expensive coffee in the world and costs about US $80 per cup. Coffee producers claim that Civet’s digestion improves beans’ flavour. It’s popularly known as “civet coffee”. It has lead to extensive farming of these animals, who are confined to cages and are forced fed the beans. It has been documented that many of the civets in the coffee industry have no access to clean drinking water, no ability to interact with other civets, and live in urine- and fences-soaked cages. Many are forced to stand, sleep, and sit on wire floors, which “causes sores”. A similar process is used in the practice of feeding coffee beans to elephants. Sadly, it’s being carried out at a “sanctuary” in Thailand, where about 27 elephants consume beans from nearby plantations. Branded as Black Ivory Coffee, this expensive brew doesn’t yet have the popularity of civet coffee, and producers argue the animals are in no way harmed, but it points to a disturbing trend in animal exploitation.

Millions of people drink coffee everyday but a very few know the atrocities that these coffee planters face, to provide us with a cup of coffee. Producers and farmers need to know how to run a successful business. These people need to be taught how to manage their finance and how to price their coffee. Coffee organisations can help, by setting a kind of ‘insurance’ scheme so that when price of coffee drops the producers don’t suffer much. It is important to ensure that the extra money raised should go to the farmers at origin and not anywhere else. Thus making needs for charities and certifications operating. It’s important that farmers are paid adequate living wages so that their children can go to school and can make both ends meet. It will help to stop the cycle of abuse. We also need to stop the demand for so called ‘luxurious coffee’. We should avoid Kopi Luwak coffee plantation and Black Ivory Coffee that keep poor animals in captive. It is cruel and abuse. There’s no excuse to it.

10 October 2020
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