10 Mission-Driven U.S. Coffee Shops Fighting Global PovertyAccording to the National Coffee Association, 64% of Americans above the age of 18 drink at least one cup of coffee per day. Coffee is clearly important for many Americans, but few think about the often impoverished communities where the coffee beans are grown. Only a select few countries are suitable for coffee production, and many of them are at an economic disadvantage. Recognizing this inequality, many U.S. coffee shops are incorporating ways to relieve global poverty into their business model. From partnering with international nonprofits to doubling as a refugee training program, these 10 mission-driven U.S. coffee shops are fighting global poverty with each morning iced latte.

10 Coffee Shops Fighting Global Poverty

  • Elevate Coffee: This mission-driven coffee shop in Phoenix, AZ believes that small donations go a long way in the fight against global poverty. With every purchase of a latte, Elevate Coffee donates $0.10 to Water 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that works to make clean water more accessible in developing countries. Water 4 Kids provides clean water packaged in easily recyclable aluminum cans to children in areas where clean water is scarce.
  • 1951 Coffee Company: Taking inspiration from the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention where the protection of refugees was first discussed on an international level, 1951 Coffee Company is a nonprofit cafe based in Berkeley, CA that trains refugees for careers in specialty coffee. So far, their program has trained 79 individuals and created a supportive community for refugees in the local area.
  • Duo 58 Cafe: This cafe in Orlando, FL is committed to reducing world hunger. Duo 58 partners with a nonprofit organization called Mission of Hope that provides meals for children in Haiti. In 2020, Mission of Hope has been able to serve 101,000 meals to students every day.
  • The Well Coffeehouse: The Well Coffeehouse in Nashville, TN is taking a hands-on approach to relieving the conditions of global poverty. By funding the construction of wells in developing countries and forming strong relationships with the farmers who produce their coffee, The Well Coffeehouse is certainly “turning profits into hope.” So far, The Well Coffeehouse has funded the construction of 23 clean water wells in different African countries.
  • FEED Shop & Cafe: This mission-driven coffee shop in Brooklyn, NY is the first retail location of the nonprofit, lifestyle brand FEED. FEED sells products crafted by artisans in developing countries such as India and Sri Lanka and donates their profits to nonprofit organizations that relieve world hunger. Each price tag of a FEED item tells the buyer how many meals their purchase can provide in developing countries. At FEED Shop & Cafe, customers can enjoy great coffee and buy products that foster sustainable communities.
  • Ascension Cafe: Based in Dallas, TX, Ascension Cafe aids impoverished communities in coffee-producing regions. This cafe understands that the effects of poverty are multifaceted, so its profits go toward improving conditions for struggling communities in a variety of ways such as funding clean water projects and entrepreneurial programs.
  • MiiR Flagship: MiiR Flagship in Seattle, WA doubles as a cafe and shop that sells MiiR products, such as stainless steel bottles and tumblers that encourage sustainable living. With each purchase of a beverage or MiiR product, the company donates to poverty-reducing projects in 26 different countries. Since its start in 2010, MiiR has raised over $1.3 million!
  • The Roosevelt Coffeehouse: This mission-driven coffee shop based in Columbus, OH is partnered with a group of nonprofit organizations including Blood: Water Mission, Food for the Hungry and Gracehaven that work toward solutions to global hunger, clean water scarcity and human trafficking. The Roosevelt Coffeehouse doesn’t keep its humanitarian work under wraps—the brand strives to bring awareness to global injustices and inspire others to get involved.
  • Mocha Joe’s Cafe: This cafe in Brattleboro, Vermont serves coffee made by Mocha Joe’s Roasting Co. The company wants to cultivate flourishing ecosystems and communities, so its coffee blends are made with fair trade and sustainably-sourced beans. Additionally, Mocha Joe’s maintains direct trade partnerships with small coffee farms in Cameroon, Bolivia and Guatemala to encourage economic development in their communities.
  • Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee: With a “Do Good Initiative” at the core of its business, this coffee company based in Roswell, GA gives back directly to the communities that grow their coffee by funding projects to provide needed resources. Recently, Land of a Thousand Hills built a health clinic near Kivu and Ruli, two remote Rwandan villages.

These 10 coffee shops are doing their part to contribute to the global fight against poverty—one cup of coffee at a time.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Flickr

Fair trade productsIn a global marketplace full of exploitative producers and hungry consumers, fair trade product markets can seem like a welcomed compromise that allows exporters in developing countries to prosper from their resources. These initiatives usually involve goods exported from developing countries to higher-income trading partners, including coffee, tea, cocoa and handicrafts. In more socially conscious trading models, producers are compensated equitably for their products and held to higher environmental and social standards. However, the true efficacy of fair trade models is complex.

Price and Accessibility

Consumer attitudes and behaviors play a significant role in the pervasiveness of fair trade products. Buyers often report positive attitudes toward more ethically traded items but are not always willing to pay the inevitably higher prices. As a result, fair trade products are still a more niche commodity, making up less than 1% of the market. Ironically, the extra expense of these items often makes them less accessible to lower-income consumers in developed countries, creating connotations of elitism. Despite these setbacks, the demand for more ethical products is steadily on the rise.

Fair Trade Product Marketing

Despite many well-intentioned consumer attitudes, fair trade product markets frequently feature marketing strategies that conjure up imperialistic images. Rather than honoring the work of exporters as equitable trading partners, many marketing campaigns portray farmers as grateful and dependent on western purchases.

Transparency in Fair Trade Certification

In products marked as fair trade, the certification might only apply to the product’s raw materials, rather than the full process of production. This means that a shirt made with fair trade cotton could have been manufactured in a sweatshop. Naturally, this lack of transparency can mislead consumers and dilute the meaning of the certification.

Economic Impact of Fair Trade

The efficacy of fair trade as a poverty management tool is up for debate as well. Although fair trade marketing is centered on empowering those in producing regions and reducing poverty, the effects are not as straightforward as many well-intentioned consumers might hope. A 2014 study theorizes that these practices are somewhat effective, “although on a comparatively modest scale relative to the size of national economies.”

Often, the poorest workers are spared the prosperity from fair trade product market practices. A study that observed coffee mills in Costa Rica between 1999 and 2014, explored the impacts of fair trade systems on household incomes within the region. Researchers found that farm owners and skilled growers reap most of the benefits. Unskilled laborers receive no benefits other than the economic spillover of an increasingly prosperous coffee-growing region.

Many requirements of the fair trade certification are inaccessible for growers with fewer resources. Smaller producers might struggle to pay the fees associated with becoming certified fair trade producers. Similarly, producers struggle to attract large corporate trading partners who have no interest in paying the extra cost of sourcing materials equitably. NGOs like Maya Traditions, which helps Guatemalan artisans sell their products on the international marketplace, aim to make entrepreneurship accessible to small producers in developing countries.

The Verdict

The efficacy of fair trade systems is the subject of a great deal of criticism. While fair trade products like coffee, tea, and cotton are worth investing in, the benefits are imperfect and not accessible to all producers or consumers. Some activists advocate for a ‘direct trade’ system, in which consumers can buy goods directly from growers while paying growers sums closer to retail prices. However, the direct trade model comes with its own set of challenges and infrastructural changes. Nonetheless, establishing a system that allows producers to reach more advanced development from trading their crops is challenging but is certainly worth investing in.

Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

jewelry rebuilds economy in cambodiaCambodian artisans are turning the same brass once used to murder into a symbol of peace and resilience, a stand against the violence that once overtook their country. Artisanry and design have deep roots in Cambodian history. However, the Khmer Rouge destroyed centuries of creative artifacts and left Cambodia’s economy in shambles. Cambodia is now littered with bombshell casings from the Khmer Rouge-led Cambodian genocide, the Vietnam War and a bombing ordered by former U.S. president Richard Nixon. But jewelers are reclaiming their nation through craft, turning these casings into beautiful pieces of jewelry as a stand against the violence that overtook their country. Their jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces poverty along with it.

What Was the Cambodian Genocide?

April 17, 1975 marks the dark day that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began destroying the Cambodian people. Pot’s goal was to rebuild Cambodia in the image of Mao’s communist model in China. However, this led to the murder of an estimated two to three million people in the historic Killing Fields. Between the murders and thousands of starvation deaths, 25% of the Cambodian population died in three years.

This loss devastated the country’s creativity culture, leaving a mere 10% of artists alive. The Khmer Rouge also banned all creative art forms that did not politically benefit them. In addition, the regime destroyed all of Cambodia’s cultural traditions. In order to rebuild the country, its people have looked to the arts.

Rajana Association of Cambodia: Jewelry Rebuilds the Economy in Cambodia

Local jewelers collect pieces of mines, bombs and bullets and upcycle them into beautifully cut brass rings, necklaces and bracelets. They also work with a Cambodian organization that trains people how to properly remove old landmines so that the jewelers can use the material. Rajana jewelers pride themselves on preserving Cambodian style and culture by staying away from Western designs. This not only demonstrates the artisans’ pride in their country’s culture but also their attempt to replenish the art destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Rajana Association of Cambodia began in 1995 as a project under a UK-based NGO, Cambodia Action, which employed young Cambodian refugees at a camp in Thailand. It became its own independent company in 2003 and has since grown into a prominent and successful organization in Cambodia and worldwide. As such, its jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia while preserving its culture.

By successfully expanding their company, the leaders of Rajana have also transformed the lives of their jeweler partners. With an outlet to work from home, the artisans make a living wage while caring for their families. Rajana also established several shops across the country solely run by Cambodian staff in order to sell the products. This income has helped send children to school, provide food for their families and purchase transportation.

Artisans Help Economies Grow

Artisan work has played a crucial role in opening the economy in post-conflict Cambodia to the global market. This rise in jewelry work has not only helped revive Cambodian tradition but also promoted commerce, trade and employment. Cambodia’s GDP has grown to $27 billion in 2019 from $588 million just before in the genocide in 1974. Jewelry manufacturing has contributed $4.8 million to the country’s GDP and employed over 3,500 people, making it a leading factor in the economy’s sustainable development. What began as a way to revive cultural traditions after the genocide has proven to be a driving component in changing the course of Cambodia’s history: the country’s poverty rate has continued to fall as employment rates rise, and is now at about 13% as of 2014 compared to almost 50% in 2007. Thus, jewelry both rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces the poverty its citizens face.

Beautiful Jewelry Reduces Poverty

Several fair trade shops sell Rajana products online, including Ten Thousand Villages and Oxfam. These shops pay their artisans fair prices for their products, thus helping them establish better lives for themselves and their families. It is incredibly important to support international artisans. This fair trade keeps not only their economies alive but also their culture and history. In all, this jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia through cultural preservation, resilience and creativity.

– Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

Labor Exploitation in Coffee
Around 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world in a typical year, an equivalent of 2.25 billion cups per day. The global coffee market was worth $83 billion USD in 2017 and was projected to rise steadily. Despite coffee’s popularity in modern life, few coffee drinkers realize the human cost to their caffeine fix. From inhumane working conditions to child labor and human trafficking, labor exploitation in coffee production is a bitter reality unbeknownst to consumers.

Global Trouble

The majority of coffee consumption happens in industrialized nations, with the United States, Germany and France as the largest importers. Conversely, more than 90% of coffee exports come from developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. Evidence suggests the presence of child labor and/or labor exploitation in coffee production in all of the above countries, in addition to many others like Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Uganda, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

From beans to brewing, coffee production is a multipart process that involves many intermediary stages before the final products reach retail stores. This laborious process means that it is extremely difficult for coffee retailers to track the origins of their coffee and ensure ethical labor practices at the source. It also means that only a small fraction – often 7% to 10%, but sometimes as low as 1% to 3% – of the retail price reaches the hands of coffee farmers. Fluctuations in coffee prices often result in farmers not earning a living wage, which jeopardizes the survival and health of their families.

Farmers’ Reality

Growing coffee requires intensive manual work such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilizing and transporting products. Plantation workers often toil under intense heat for up to 10 hours a day, and many face debt bondage and serious health risks due to exposure to dangerous agrochemicals. In Guatemala, coffee pickers often receive a daily quota of 45 kilograms just to earn the minimum wage: $3 a day. To meet this minimum demand, parents often pull their children out of school to work with them. This pattern of behavior jeopardizes children’s health and education in underdeveloped rural areas, where they already experience significant barriers and setbacks.

Forced labor is widely reported in coffee-growing regions in Guatemala and Côte d’Ivoire. Workers suffer physical violence as well as threats of loss of work, wages, or food if they fail to perform at a certain – often unreasonable – standard. Many work without a contract, timely payment, protective gear, or appropriate medical care. Migrants are especially vulnerable since many cannot afford to return home and have to rely on plantation work to survive.

Child Labor and Exploitation

About 20% of children in coffee-growing countries fall victim to labor exploitation in coffee cultivation. Facing demanding quotas, workers often bring their children to help in the field in order to earn a living wage. The U.S. Department of Labor reports an estimated 34,131 children laborers growing coffee in Vietnam, 12,526 of which are under the age of 15. The same report finds almost 5,000 children under 14 working on coffee plantations in Brazil, often without a contract or protective equipment. In Côte d’Ivoire, children are subject to human trafficking and forced labor. Children are forcibly transported to coffee plantations from nearby countries including Benin, Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso and recruited to work for little or no pay, often for three or four years until they could return home. Threats of violence and withheld payments prevent them from leaving the farms, and many suffer from denial of food and sick leave.

Many South American countries have launched extensive and effective social programs and policies to address child labor and labor exploitation in coffee farms. In 2018, Colombia made significant advancements in efforts to tackle child labor through its campaign Working is Not a Child’s Task, the National Policy on Childhood and Adolescence, and the Center for the Crime of Trafficking in Persons. The Brazilian government funded and participated in programs that target child labor, such as the #StopChildLabor (#ChegaDeTrabalhoInfantil) Campaign and the Living Together and Strengthening Links Program (Serviço de Convivência e Fortalecimento de Vínculo).

The Fair Trade Movement

In the past decade, labor exploitation in coffee cultivation has garnered attention worldwide. As a result, many socially aware businesses have committed to a fair trade approach that promotes better profits for farmers and more sustainability in farming practices. Among other objectives, the fair trade movement works to give farmers a higher price for their coffee under conditions that strictly prohibit the use of exploitative practices. Ethically certified coffee brands such as Equal Exchange and Cafedirect have risen in popularity as consumers become more aware of labor exploitation issues. Certification schemes such as Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified bring value to socially conscious businesses and encourage trading practices that empower smallholder farmers.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

hair trade
Poverty comes in various forms: lack of education, malnutrition, preventable diseases, and, in some cases, loss of hair. Hair, like poverty, comes in different appearances: long, wavy, short, brown, curly, red, mid-length or white. Some people covet certain styles, particularly those whose hair cannot naturally conform to the latest trend. Therefore, alternatives such as natural or synthetic hair stand in as solutions. For years, India was the primary provider of natural hair to African American women in the United States. However, in recent years, Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country riddled with poverty, took the spotlight, sending hundreds of locks of hair to America, Europe, South Africa and Nigeria, with the American market accounting for 80% of sales in the hair trade industry. Eyes dote upon these pristine locks, which fall into consumers’ hands at a reasonable price, but the hair trade rarely comes at a fair price to the proprietor.

Injustice in the Industry

In Cambodia, women’s hair typically sells for $8 to $30, depending on the length of the lock. Companies then clean, sew and sell it for an average of an outstanding $500 in the United States. The hair that sells online and in American shops generally come from the heads of poor Khmer women. These women often experience coercion to sell their hair for an unfair price. These women are unaware of the value of their hair and do not know how to barter. In return, the women end up with split ends, bald spots, jagged edges and low self-esteem.

Poverty in Cambodia

Poverty forces unwanted decisions. It includes numerous losses, such as the loss of hair, which signifies beauty and strength. However, the blazing light of poverty is beginning to fade in Cambodia. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambodia had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In fact, over the course of the past 20 years, Cambodia has reduced its poverty level by half. Infant mortality rates have decreased and primary education enrollment has increased. Statistically speaking, Cambodia is on the rise.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have played an instrumental role in the economic climb. One NGO, Open Arms, provides vocational training through various methods, including hairdressing and salon maintenance. Through Open Arms, women, who once had to sell their hair to make financial ends meet, now have the privilege of empowering other women through the simplicity of a haircut.

The shift in the country’s economy has shed light not only on Cambodia’s best but also on her worst, which includes the hair trade industry. With the injustice of the hair trade industry making the pages of prominent news outlets, such as NBC, there is potential for change. After all, awareness is the building block for action. While Cambodia is on an uphill climb, she still has a long way to go. However, she is moving in a positive direction, gaining prominence with each step she takes.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Fashion and Poverty
Fast fashion has been an ever-growing presence within first world countries since the 1990s. At first glance, consumers purchase cheap and trendy outfits for a fraction of the price of high-end brands. However, beneath the surface, impoverished workers in developing countries are toiling in dangerous sweatshops for minimal pay. These supply chains show a direct link between fast fashion and poverty.

Many fast fashion companies, such as Forever 21 and H&M, receive new clothing shipments every day, while Topshop features 400 styles per week. These brands are able to produce apparel at rapid speed because they do not interact with production, and instead outsource to supplier firms in developing countries. These firms then subcontract production to unregistered suppliers that operate under no government regulation. This means that brands are not legally obligated to ensure safe working conditions. This process takes advantage of the less fortunate. For this reason, more people should be aware of the processes behind their fast fashion finds.

Unethical Production Practices

Due to the fact that many sweatshops reside in countries with inadequate labor laws and little government oversight, working conditions are dangerous and dehumanizing. These sweatshops prey on the poorest people who do not have the luxury to turn down any form of work. In many manufacturing countries such as China, India and Bangladesh, the minimum wage only ranges from a half to a fifth of the living wage required for a family to meet its basic needs. Furthermore, the average worker in an Indian sweatshop makes just 58 cents an hour, and in Bangladesh this drops to 33, linking fast fashion to the cycle of poverty.

Dangerous Working Conditions

Along with the miserable pay, working conditions in sweatshops are often incredibly dangerous. Garment workers have to work 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week while facing verbal and physical abuse from overseers. Employees often work with no ventilation while breathing in toxic substances. Accidents and injuries are also common; the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh provides a grisly example. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory caused over 1,000 garment workers to die on the job.

Child Exploitation

While these companies prey on the poor, they especially prey upon children in poverty. A report investigating mills in India found that 60% of the workers were under 18 when they began working. Trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, these children are extremely susceptible to forced labor in sweatshops. These unethical labor practices demonstrate how fast fashion and poverty are intermingled.

Apparel Companies Working for Change

Fast fashion companies that use unethical production are among some of the most prominent leaders in the industry, including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, H&M, Zara and more. However, in response to these widespread atrocities, many apparel brands have made a conscious effort to utilize ethical production practices.

One of the most well known Fairtrade certified brands is Patagonia, a company that offers more Fair Trade Certified styles than any other apparel brand. In response to prominent injustices, the company has built a social responsibility program to analyze their impact on workers and communities. In addition, since Patagonia does not own any factories, it is partnering with production companies across the globe to ensure ethical practices. The company strives to be a positive force that “not only minimizes harm but also creates a positive benefit for the lives they touch through their business.”

Know the Origin is another Fairtrade brand that works to be transparent about their production practices. This brand goes above and beyond paying minimum wages and ensuring safe working conditions. Know the Origin is working to create sustainable employment opportunities that help lift communities out of poverty. Able is another Fairtrade brand that centers on ending generational poverty. As over 75% of apparel workers are women, Able focuses on lifting women out of poverty through stable working positions. While these are some of the most prominent Fairtrade companies, there are many more that any consumer can discover with a few quick minutes of research.

Why You Should Vote With Your Dollar

These Fairtrade brands are paving the way for a new type of ethical apparel production. The apparel industry has the ability to provide dignified jobs for impoverished communities rather than forcing them further into poverty. While increased prices make many Fairtrade products inaccessible to those in poverty, a significant number of people who buy fast fashion have the means to buy Fairtrade. In the end, change must occur at the hands of fast fashion companies to make a permanent difference. However, consumers can still make an impact by pushing them to make this change. When consumers choose to buy Fairtrade, they show their demand for ethically-made apparel.

As a consumer, you can act for change. In buying Fairtrade, you refuse to funnel your money into an industry that abuses and torments impoverished communities. You communicate that you are against the sweatshops that force workers to endlessly toil for minimal pay. You show that you care about the world’s poor.

Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Flickr

Dunkin' Donuts Fights Global PovertyDie-hard Dunkin’ Donuts fans might love the company for its coffee and assortment of breakfast treats, but this New England favorite is proving there is even more to love with some of its philanthropic choices regarding its products. From making ethical decisions when it comes to sourcing its espresso beans to switching to sustainable alternatives for its cups, Dunkin’ is combating global poverty and benefiting the world at large. Here is more information about how Dunkin’ Donuts fights global poverty.

Dunkin’ Donuts Fights Global Poverty with Fair Trade Espresso

Dunkin’ Donuts was the first national coffee company to offer fair trade certified espresso beverages in 2004. This supports the economic and environmental well being of coffee-farming communities around the world. Fair trade certification ensures that coffee farmers are paid livable wages in an industry that often exploits its workers. Many coffee farmers face extreme poverty, job insecurity, unregulated working conditions and labor rights abuses, just to name some hardships.

Dunkin’ Donuts is combating global poverty by choosing to use fair trade espresso beans, which is making a difference in the lives of many families around the world. Andrés Bermeo Calderon, a father, husband and member of a Fair Trade Certified™ coffee cooperative in Chirinos, Peru spoke about how being a fair trade member has changed his life. “For me, the most important part of being a cooperative member is that now I can provide a better life for my family,” he said. He spoke of the hardships he faced before being a member. “Before, our sales were really bad and we had no control over the price. Sometimes we received only enough for the day to buy food and nothing else. Now, we have a better economy and we are able to ask for loans,” he said.

Making Sustainable Changes

Dunkin’ Donuts made the complete switch from polystyrene foam cups to a double-walled paper cup alternative in 2019. While this might seem like a small change, this switch is expected to eliminate “approximately one billion foam cups annually from the waste stream.”

Polystyrene is not only a known hazardous substance and pollutant that can potentially contaminate food or drink contained in it but it also poses an extreme threat to poverty-stricken communities around the world due to the harmful chemicals it produces as it breaks down in landfills. According to the EPA, styrene—what’s left when foam cups break down—leaches from landfills into drinking water. It also creates a huge problem with pollution in the oceans.

It can cause liver, kidney or circulatory system problems. This threatens those living in extreme poverty disproportionately because they are most likely to live near landfills and factories that produce polystyrene cups. Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision to eliminate these foam cups will greatly reduce styrene contamination in impoverished nations. This is just another way Dunkin’ Donuts fights global poverty.

Proving to be more than just a widely successful coffee company with a great cup of coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts is fighting global poverty by making ethical and sustainable changes concerning its products. International companies have the ability to make decisions that have far-reaching impacts. Dunkin’ Donuts is showing that it is using that power for positive change that will have a lasting impact.

– Hannah White
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Coffee Farmers in Ethiopia
Coffee production in Ethiopia accounts for about 3 percent of the global market with around 20 million people relying on it for livelihood in the region. These 20 million workers only see about 15 percent of the profits from the purchase of a bag of beans. Bext360, as well as several other companies, are using blockchain and AI technology to empower farmers through fair and immediate pay, awareness of the market value and direct communication with buyers. By simplifying the coffee production industry and creating transparency through a traceable digital footprint, coffee farmers in Ethiopia can reap the benefits of their harvest in a more efficient and innovative way.

Bext360

Daniel Jones launched Bext360 in Denver in 2017. Bext360 is a Software-as-a-Service platform that allows consumers to trace products from the point of origin, providing a measurable means of accountability.

This provides transparency and efficiency, ensuring fairness to all sides. Through the use of blockchain and AI, Bext360 is revolutionizing traceability in the coffee industry, doing away with the middle-man that takes most of the gains that rightly belong to the farmers.

The Solution

Stellar is a financial tech startup that can handle a high volume of micropayments across borders that allows Bext360—in partnership with Moyee Coffee Company (that sources and roasts its beans in Ethiopia)—to produce crypto tokens that immediately and directly transfers to farmers. Moyee also adds a 20 percent premium payment to all small-holder farmers.

Coffee berry harvesters take the cherries they pick and load them into a special bin (the bextmachine) that appraises the haul while simultaneously sifting and sorting the crop. Farmers have the power to accept or deny the offer for their coffee crop through the use of mobile devices, allowing them to have more freedom and bargaining power.

Bext360 has also created a platform where photos of the coffee bean farmers are available online. This profile also shows how much they are receiving for pay and what the current market value price is. Consumers can view this online profile by scanning a QR code that pulls up the exact location of the farm, and traces the journey and price of the bean to their cup.

How Does this Help Farmers?

The machine that Bext360 created allows farmers to know the value of their crop, and avoid exploitation from coffee companies. It also gives them the knowledge and incentive to take control of the market and harvest at the right time, maximizing return profit.

Coffee farmers in Ethiopia can also have a more direct relationship with buyers. Estimates determine that farmers can have about a 40 percent increase in revenue by using the bextmachine as opposed to other typical washing stations.

Going Forward — Other Companies Involved

Other companies such as IOHK are going beyond supply chain transparency. It is pursuing development in a blockchain training course for local developers who, once graduated, will go on to create their own projects in cryptocurrency in Africa using Cardano technology. This should create even more potential for improvements in all economic sectors, not just the coffee industry.

Through the innovation and scope that blockchain allows, Moyee Coffee Company is able to leave over 300 percent more value in Ethiopia compared to other coffee companies. In May 2018, Moyee also hosted a One Million Cups Campaign in Ireland that sent over $63,448 to Ethiopia. In the future, Moyee hopes to be able to use its blockchain tech to crowd-fund upgrading equipment or building new infrastructure to ultimately improve yields and sever Ethiopia’s reliance on foreign aid in the region.

The benefits of more transparency are twofold: creating greater awareness and participation in consumers, as well as improving living conditions. Living conditions may improve through more equal pay for farmers and ultimately allowing the hard-working growers to reap the benefits of their work and be able to support themselves. It gives coffee farmers in Ethiopia more empowerment over their craft, all the way to the cup of coffee that one buys at the store.

– Laurel Sonneby
Photo: Flickr

Coffee farms fight world povertyCoffee is the world’s second-favorite drink, only behind water. In the U.S., Americans drink more than 580 million cups of coffee per day. Worldwide, more than three billion cups are consumed per day. To support the world’s love of coffee, many developing countries rely on their coffee-growing industries supported by small farmers. The majority of these small farmers, unfortunately, live in impoverished conditions. With the popularity of coffee and the market, there is a way that coffee farms can fight world poverty.

An Unsustainable Business

Small farmers produce about 80 percent of the global coffee supply. These farmers, known as smallholders, are defined as “owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labor.” An estimated 25 million smallholder farmers produce the world’s coffee supply. Unfortunately, they earn less than 10 percent per pound of the sale value of their coffee. Combined with the added costs of production, this quickly becomes an unprofitable business.

With the current situation being so hard economically, more and more coffee farmers have moved out of the industry. The past couple of years have brought drought and an increase in crop diseases like “coffee rust.” Coffee prices have dropped to a 12 year low.

Not only are farmers unable to support themselves and their families, but there are also a number of other challenges that have pushed them out of the coffee growing business. The environment in which coffee grows best requires a high altitude that is usually in remote and mountainous areas. This limits access to markets and adds the cost of transportation and middlemen. Changing weather conditions and lack of environmentally sustainable practices along with weak management and poor training have led to the inefficiency of coffee production.

In the department of Risaralda in Colombia, lies a small coffee farm known as a “Finca del Café.” Here, there are 10 hectares of land dedicated to the growth of Arabica coffee, a type of coffee that does best in the high altitude. The winding path through the Finca reveals the complex process of coffee growing that takes years of time. The farmer, who learned to grow coffee from his grandparents, expressed the unsustainability of the coffee business in 2019. They had to turn to other sources for revenue such as capitalizing on tourism of the area and building conference buildings.

Is Fair-Trade The Solution?

Despite the current situation of coffee production, the demand for the drink is increasing. If the current trend continues, there is predicted to be a shortage by 2050. In order to help small farmers and the coffee business, many companies are turning to fair-trade. According to the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics, “the promise of the fair-trade movement is that coffee growers in poor nations will receive a higher price for coffee if it is produced in better working conditions with higher wages.”

Unfortunately, no solution is perfect. Fair-trade impacts farmers by artificially raising the sale price of coffee, targetting production and not poverty. Other initiatives that focus on coffee farmers’ operations and management have shown more success. NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises) works to facilitate services for Ugandan coffee farmers while having them take ownership of their crops. In Colombia, coffee farmers are investing in digital tools to better manage their farms and transactions.

Coffee and Culture

There are many coffee farms in Colombia’s Cafetero region facing these issues. While some are forced to give up coffee due to the lack of profit, others try to maintain the culture of coffee growing. Coffee farms like the aforementioned “Finca del Cafe” make it their purpose to inform others of the coffee-making process and also to bring awareness to the problems modern coffee farmers are facing.

Local coffee is sold all around the region and coffee is a large part of Colombia’s larger society. The problems encountered by coffee producers can ultimately change Colombia’s culture, a country that prides itself on its coffee.

– Margarita Orozco
Photo: Flickr

Fair Trade ProductsIn 2015, there were 783 million people living in poverty. Although there has been some progress in reducing this number in the past few years, poverty continues to be a serious issue. Fairtrade is one simple yet impactful approach to alleviate this problem. The purchase of fair trade products supports gender equality, children’s and workers’ rights, and sustainable farming. Unfortunately, consumers are often unaware of the availability of fair trade products. This is mainly because they haven’t been generally accessible. The fair trade market is showing signs of growth, however, and the purchase of fair trade products can become a key to promote the reduction of poverty.

The Morning Pick-Me-Up

Starbucks, one of the most popular coffee companies in the world, has been promoting fairtrade globally since 2000. The company is attempting to improve the lives of more than 1 million people who live in communities that revolve around the coffee industry. Toward that end, Starbucks now purchases 99 percent ethically grown coffee through Conservation International and has committed to 100 percent by 2020. The company has also launched a Global Farmer Fund Program which is committing $50 million to finance the renovation of coffee farms.

The goal is to develop more sustainable farming practices with improved employment conditions. More than 29,000 Starbucks stores around the world are having a substantial impact.

The Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is often guilty of using problematic and unethical labor practices, particularly child labor. This is because the industry embeds children in the supply chain to handle low-skilled tasks such as cotton-picking for extremely low wages. For this reason, it is very difficult to pay fair wages and still compete in the industry. Nevertheless, some fair trade products are starting to become competitive.

Athleta and Aventura are two companies that are offering sustainable fair trade clothing. Athleta is an activewear brand that has created more than 40 fair trade styles. They have committed to creating up to 230 by the end of the year.

Aventura sells fashionable, everyday clothing items for women and men that are made using fair trade practices. They use low-impact, sustainable materials for over 75 percent of their styles. The company also partners with Fair Trade USA to give back to the workers who produce their clothing. These fair trade companies provide good alternatives to clothing from brands like Urban Outfitters or Free People.

Scrubs and Suds

Lush is making the acquisition of ethically produced cosmetic products easier. Organizations like Fairtrade International have fair trade certified many Lush products. In some cases where ingredients have not been fair trade certified, Lush forms a direct relationship with the supplier to ensure that workers are treated and paid fairly. Lush also supports sustainable practices by its suppliers. Consumers are supporting improved working conditions in the cosmetics industry by purchasing products from Lush.

For the Occasional Sweet Tooth

Small family farms, the majority of which are located in West Africa, produce 90 percent of the world’s cocoa. Tony’s Chocolonely buys fair-trade chocolate to ensure that farmworkers are treated well and paid fairly. Tony’s is fair trade certified, producing 100 percent slave-free chocolate.

Tony’s works with 5,021 farmers and is committed to providing all of them with a living wage. The company pays its farmers a Fairtrade premium as well as their own premium. With this structure, the farmers get more than 9.6 percent of the retail price. Grocery stores throughout West Africa are making Tony’s chocolate bars easily accessible.

And So Much More…

Fairtrade shopping is one of the simplest yet most impactful ways to benefit the world’s poor. Fortunately, quality fair trade products are becoming easier to find than people might assume. Organizations like Fairtrade America and Fair Trade Certified have validated many ethical companies. It is important to seek out and support companies that sell fair trade products because purchasing fair trade products is a great alternative that facilitates poverty reduction.

– Ryley Bright
Photo: Flickr