Farmworkers & Coffee: The Case for Inclusion

Excerpt from KIM ELENA IONESCU’s introduction of the newly republished SCA White Paper titled Farmworkers & Coffee: The Case for Inclusion.

When we published the Blueprint for Farmworker Inclusion in early 2016, it felt as though specialty coffee had scarcely begun to consider the risks and opportunities associated with coffee farm labor – or at least, no one was talking about them. Many buyers who were still working toward traceability to the coffee farm level felt they lacked the visibility and leverage to gather or request any information about farmworkers, and meanwhile, some coffee farm owners responded with frustration to the specter of additional regulations and expectations of compliance coming from the market without financial support. Since 2016, the global dialogue on labor has accelerated due in part to legislation like the UK Modern Slavery Act and the US Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, and in part to the recognition that supply-chain labor violations threaten not only a company’s reputation, but its access to raw materials. These issues are not unique to coffee – from seafood processors in Vietnam to sanitation workers in Belgium, violations of human rights enshrined in the Global Compact of the United Nations, as well as the conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), are increasingly in the news.

Download Farmworkers & Coffee: The Case for Inclusion, the newly republished SCA White Paper.

Agricultural work has been dangerous, and farmworkers have been vulnerable, for as long as humans have cultivated the earth, and that makes it hard to conceive of the sort of transformation that will be required to change the paradigm. But there are signs of progress, including in the initiatives profiled in the paper: the project in Guatemala supported by Keurig Green Mountain trained more than 800 workers, government officials, NGO representatives, and coffee producers, traders, and brands to prevent exploitative labor practices and implemented a Grievance Reporting and Information Dissemination (GRID) system that provided over 1,000 workers with information about their rights; the Global Living Wage Coalition has completed pilot studies in 14 countries and set living wage benchmarks for coffee-producing regions including Minas Gerais, Brazil; stakeholders from the private and public sector in Brazil work together to share best practices in labor and human rights at InPACTO’s “Mesa de Café Brasil” sessions; and La Revancha coffee estate continues to set a powerful example and receive recognition nationally and internationally for strengthening the roles and rights of workers and their children in Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, the global dialogue about inclusion in specialty coffee offers additional opportunities for learning, because while farmworkers are the most vulnerable group of people in the coffee value chain, many of the characteristics that contribute to their vulnerability are shared by roasters, baristas, people of color, and others in the specialty coffee industry.

We cannot hope to advance in farmworker inclusion without understanding the economic, social, and environmental obstacles that keep them on the margins, nor can we address any community, anywhere in the world, in isolation. In our events, our education, and our research, the Specialty Coffee Association will continue to support and promote work being done by industry stakeholders to advance farmworker inclusion and we will continue to share our own progress.

Thank you for downloading this paper, pursuing farmworker inclusion in specialty coffee wherever you are, and for supporting the SCA’s commitment to make coffee better.

KIM ELENA IONESCU is the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Specialty Coffee Association.