Coffee

Countries Where Coffee is Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

  • Côte d’Ivoire (FL, CL)

  • Colombia (CL)

  • Costa Rica (CL)

  • Dominican Republic (CL)

  • Guatemala (CL)

  • Guinea (CL)

  • Honduras (CL)

  • El Salvador (CL)

  • Kenya (CL)

    • Mexico (FL, CL)

    • Nicaragua (CL)

    • Panama (CL)

    • Sierra Leone (CL)

    • Tanzania (CL)

    • Togo (FL)

    • Uganda (CL)

    • Vietnam (CL)

Where is coffee reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the 2016 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, coffee is produced with forced labor or forced child labor in Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico, and Togo.[1]

The U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 List of Goods Made with Forced Labor and Child Labor indicates that coffee is produced with forced labor and child labor in Côte d’Ivoire (CDI) and with child labor in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam.[2]

Verité research has identified indicators of forced labor in the Guatemalan and Mexican coffee sectors.[3] Investigations by Danwatch and Finnwatch have uncovered indicators of forced labor in the Brazilian coffee sector,[4] while a 2016 Danwatch report found indicators of forced labor in the Guatemalan coffee sector,[5] and a recent Univision/Weather Channel documentary found child labor, degrading living conditions, and a lack of inspections in the Mexican coffee sector.[6]

Colombia is listed as a Tier 1 country by the U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report. CDI, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, and Vietnam are listed as Tier 2 countries. Costa Rica, Guinea and Tanzania are Tier 2 Watch List Counties.[7]

[1] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2016 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2016.  https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/TVPRA_Report2016.pdf

[3] Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Coffee in Guatemala. 2012. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Indicators-of-Forced-Labor-in-the-Guatemala-Coffee-Sector__9.16.pdf

[4] FinnWatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

DanWatch. You may be drinking coffee grown under slavery-like, life-threatening conditions. March 10, 2016. https://www.danwatch.dk/en/nyhed/du-risikerer-at-drikke-kaffe-dyrket-under-slavelignende-forhold/

[5] Hjerl Hansen, Julie. Bitter Coffee – Guatemala. Danwatch. September 8, 2016. https://www.danwatch.dk/en/undersogelse/bitter-coffee-guatemala/

[6] The Weather Channel and Telemundo. “The Source: The human cost hidden within a cup of coffee.” January 19, 2017. http://thesourcefilm.com/

[7] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

What does trafficking and/or child labor look like in the production of coffee?

Few large-scale studies have been carried out on human trafficking in the coffee sector; however, in-depth research carried out by Verité in Guatemala and anecdotal reports in other countries confirm its existence. Some larger plantations, such as in Guatemala, may recruit workers via labor brokers, leaving workers vulnerable to debt bondage and other indicators of forced labor.[8] Other risk factors that make workers more vulnerable include the hiring of temporary and migrant workers, as well as workers’ inability to leave coffee farms until the end of harvest, as is sometimes the case in Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala. Minimum wage violations are also common, for example, in Guatemala, even on farms producing gourmet coffee.[9]

According to the U.S. Department of State, “several managers of a coffee plantation involved in the forced labor of indigenous Guatemalan children” were arrested in Mexico.[10]

Smallholder coffee farms rely heavily on family labor, and children are likely to work on family farms. On larger plantations, children may work alongside their parents either to supplement their families’ income, to help parents meet their production quotas, or because the children of migrant parents have nowhere else to go during the day if they are not enrolled in school.[11] Children involved in coffee production take on a variety of tasks including picking and sorting berries, pruning trees, weeding, fertilizing, and transporting beans and other supplies. Work in coffee production leaves children vulnerable to injuries from tools and equipment, hearing loss due to machinery, musculoskeletal injuries, respiratory illness, pesticide exposure, sun and heat exposure, snake and insect bites, long working hours, and withdrawal from school.[12]

A 2016 study by Finnwatch reported that child labor, including among children as young as 5-6 years old, appeared to be common on coffee plantations visited in Honduras.[13] Working children in that study were not the children of the farm owners, but instead were hired directly or worked alongside their parents.[14]

[8] Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Coffee in Guatemala. 2012. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Indicators-of-Forced-Labor-in-the-Guatemala-Coffee-Sector__9.16.pdf

[9] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

[10] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

[11] Global Exchange. Coffee FAQ. http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/coffee/faq#1

Fair Trade USA. Child Labor in Coffee Supply Chains. January 27, 2017. https://fairtradeusa.org/press-room/press_release/child-labor-coffee-supply-chains

[12] International Labor Organization (ILO). Safety and Health Fact Sheet: Hazardous Child Labour in Agriculture: Coffee. 2004.

[13] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

[14] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

CASE STUDY

Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Coffee in Guatemala

Verité conducted research in the coffee industry in Guatemala and found indicators of forced labor in coffee estates among migrant workers, workers who lived near the estates, and workers who lived on the estates year-round. Although the workers were free to enter and leave the estates, there were some restrictions on their movement during working hours, and guards were present. Workers were subjected to threats and verbal abuse, and many were fearful of their employers. Researchers also other found indicators of forced labor, including induced indebtedness, the use of unscrupulous labor brokers, the confiscation of identification documents, and the absence of written contracts. Some workers were threatened with a loss of employment, food, or future employment if they tried to leave the estates before the end of the harvest season or if they failed to harvest enough coffee.[15]

According to the Guatemalan Labor Code, manual workers must be paid every fifteen days. However, in the Guatemalan coffee sector, workers were usually paid every month or at the end of the harvest, which encouraged the workers to stay on the estates until the harvest season was over. Many workers were paid according to a quota system. Workers were subject to hazardous working conditions, including the use of pesticides, without consistent medical care. Almost all workers interviewed by Verité (98.9 percent) reported that the estates on which they were last employed used child laborers, some as young as five years old. Children working in the coffee industry are forced to interrupt their education and are subject to dangerous working conditions.[16]

A November 2015 study carried out by Danwatch confirmed the presence of forced labor indicators. Researchers found that many workers were subject to physical confinement and abuse at the workplace and that some internal migrants temporarily living on the estates were housed in unsanitary and uncomfortable living quarters and were not given sufficient rations.[17]

A number of recent studies have been conducted on the Brazilian coffee sector, including one by Finnwatch in 2015 and another by Catholic Relief Services and Repórter Brasil carried out from October 2013 through mid-2014. Both found indicators of forced labor on a number of farms. Brazil’s 2014 “Dirty List” named 16 farms from which 400 workers were freed by labor inspectors, and in 2016, 213 workers were freed from an additional ten farms. Most of those workers had been recruited by labor brokers, referred to as gatos, who sometimes retain workers’ documents or charge fees for various services that are subsequently deducted from worker salaries, including transportation, food, accommodation, supervision, and payroll. Workers’ freedom of movement was restricted due to document retention, as well as by threats of violence. Between 40 and 50 percent of temporary workers in Brazil’s coffee sector did not have employment contracts, leaving them without access to benefits and vulnerable to other violations. Wage violations were common, with some workers reporting irregular, late, and underpayment of wages, or even no payment at all. Workers were subjected to dangerous working conditions on Brazilian coffee farms, with many workers receiving little or no access to personal protective equipment, shelter from the sun, or drinking water.[18]

[15] Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Coffee in Guatemala. 2012. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Indicators-of-Forced-Labor-in-the-Guatemala-Coffee-Sector__9.16.pdf

[16] Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Coffee in Guatemala. 2012. http://www.verite.org/sites/default/files/images/Research%20on%20Indicators%20of%20Forced%20Labor%20in%20the%20Guatemala%20Coffee%20Sector__9.16.pdf

[17] DanWatch. You may be drinking coffee grown under slavery-like, life-threatening conditions. March 10, 2016. https://www.danwatch.dk/en/nyhed/du-risikerer-at-drikke-kaffe-dyrket-under-slavelignende-forhold/

[18] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

Catholic Relief Services and Repórter Brasil. Farmworker Protections and Labor Conditions in Brazil’s Coffee Sector. Coffeelands Program. 2016. http://coffeelands.crs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CRS-Policy-Brief-Farmworker-Protections-and-Labor-Conditions-in-Brazil%E2%80%99s-Coffee-Sector.pdf

Coffee Production and Supply Chain

The majority of coffee is grown by smallholder farms.[19] Coffee is also grown on larger plantations that employ both permanent and temporary labor.[20] Coffee production provides a livelihood for over 26 million people worldwide.[21]

Coffee plants bear fruit approximately three to four years after planting, and the fruit turns red when it is ready to be harvested. Harvesting the coffee bean is labor intensive. Beans are either “strip picked” or “selectively picked.” If beans are strip picked, all beans are harvested at one time. When beans are selectively picked, only the ripe berries are picked. Picking selectively is more labor intensive, and often reserved for higher quality beans. There are one or two major harvests per year and pickers average approximately 100-200 pounds of coffee beans a day. Workers are normally paid by the weight of beans picked.[22]

After coffee is harvested, the seeds are dried either by the sun or, on more mechanized plantations, by machine. Beans are then hulled, sorted, and graded for quality before being roasted. Labor trafficking may occur at all stages of production, but it is most likely to occur in harvesting.

Coffee prices are set by the New York “C” contract market. Trading and speculation can lead to fluctuating prices. Changes in global supply also affect prices. Droughts or other supply chain disruptions – particularly in Brazil, the world’s largest producer – increase the price. Specialty coffee may be imported at a higher negotiated price, but according to Global Exchange, farmers often do not benefit from this premium, which provides a disincentive for increased quality in production.[23] Coffee prices tend to be volatile,[24] and this volatility can put strong downward pressure on coffee farmers and plantations to decrease all input costs, including labor, which is often the only input over which they have control. Labor reportedly accounts for up to 70 percent of production costs.[25] When prices are particularly low, farmers sell their beans for less than the cost of production, leaving many coffee producing families far below the poverty line.[26]

[19] Oxfam. Grounds for Change. April 2006.  https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/coffee.pdf

[20] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

[21] International Coffee Organization (ICO). Employment generated by the coffee sector. 2010. http://www.ico.org/documents/icc-105-5e-employment.pdf

[22] National Coffee Association. 10 Steps to Coffee from Seed to Cup. http://www.ncausa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=69

[23] Global Exchange. Coffee FAQ. http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/coffee/faq#1

[24] Oxfam. Grounds for Change. April 2006.  https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/coffee.pdf

[25] Fair Trade USA. Child Labor in Coffee Supply Chains. January 27, 2017. https://fairtradeusa.org/press-room/press_release/child-labor-coffee-supply-chains

[26] International Labor Organization (ILO). Safety and Health Fact Sheet: Hazardous Child Labour in Agriculture: Coffee. 2004.

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Coffee Production Affect Me?

Coffee is one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), coffee is the second most traded commodity world-wide after oil.[27] The United States imports the most coffee from Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.[28]

[27] UN Conference on Trade and Development. Commodities Atlas: Coffee. 2004. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditccom20041ch4_en.pdf

[28] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. UN Comtrade Database. 2012. http://comtrade.un.org/data/

EXAMPLES

What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

There are a number of sustainability certifications including 4C Association, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ Certified. Some companies have their own certifications and standards, such as Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality and Starbucks Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Approximately 40 percent of global production was produced with voluntary certification in 2012.[29] These certifications have varying levels of social standards, and many do not cover common indicators of trafficking, such as recruitment fees, document retention, indebtedness, and restrictions on workers’ freedom of movement. Some, such as Organic certification, include no standards on social compliance, and therefore provide no safeguards against labor violations.[30] Furthermore, many of the certifications utilize a “square root” methodology to select farms for inspections, meaning that in large markets, just 0.5 percent of farms are inspected every three years, meaning that it would take hundreds of years to inspect all of the farms in the supply chain.[31]

Verité research, along with investigations carried out by Danwatch, Finnwatch, Repórter Brasil, and Univision/The Weather Channel have detected child labor, trafficking indicators, and other violations on certified farms, including among temporary contract workers hired by cooperative farms during the labor intensive harvest season, so it is imperative that compliance be monitored. A Finnwatch investigation in Brazil uncovered signs of trafficking on certified farms.[32]

Coffee company Keurig Green Mountain partnered with Verité in 2015 to research recruitment and working conditions and worker needs in the Guatemalan coffee sector and to conduct trainings for workers, government officials, local NGO representatives, and coffee producers, traders and brands. The project, with funding from both Keurig and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, also includes mapping Keurig’s supply chain and building a grievance reporting and information dissemination (GRID) system to monitor and improve labor practices.[33] Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), which together account for almost half of the global coffee market, have also responded to allegations of forced labor on farms they source from by updating their human rights policies and requiring compliance from their suppliers.[34]

[29] Potts, Jason, Matthew Lynch, Ann Wilkings, Gabriel Huppé, Maxine Cunningham, and Vivek Voora. The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Green Economy. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). 2014. https://www.iisd.org/pdf/2014/ssi_2014.pdf

[30] Specialty Coffee Association. Sustainable Coffee Certifications: A Comparison Matrix. 2009. https://www.scaa.org/PDF/SustainableCoffeeCertificationsComparisonMatrix.pdf

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW35100.pdf

[31] The Weather Channel and Telemundo. “The Source: The human cost hidden within a cup of coffee.” January 19, 2017. http://thesourcefilm.com/

[32] Finnwatch. Brewing up a sustainable coffee supply chain. April 2016. https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/FW_Coffee_report_18102016.pdf

[33] Verité. Improving Supply Chain Transparency, Monitoring and Accountability in Guatemala’s Coffee Sector. Vision. July 2015. https://www.verite.org/improving-supply-chain-transparency-monitoring-and-accountability-in-guatemalas-coffee-sector/

[34] DanWatch. You may be drinking coffee grown under slavery-like, life-threatening conditions. March 10, 2016. https://www.danwatch.dk/en/nyhed/du-risikerer-at-drikke-kaffe-dyrket-under-slavelignende-forhold/

LEARN MORE

Read a summary of the global coffee trade.

Read Verité’s full report on forced labor indicators in Guatemala’s Coffee industry.

Read Finnwatch’s in-depth investigation of the Brazilian coffee sector. Check out Danwatch’s work on the Brazilian and Guatemalan coffee sectors.

Check out Danwatch’s work on the Brazilian and Guatemalan coffee sectors.