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Child Labor in Guatemala's Coffee Industry
Many coffee consumers do not recognize what goes into making their morning cup of joe. Coffee is one of the major crops that child workers cultivate across the globe, including Guatemala, where major U.S. companies such as Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Kirkland source their coffee beans. Guatemala is working to reverse the damage the decades-long civil war (1960 to 1996) inflicted upon its children, indigenous population and industries, but the country still needs to do a lot. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Guatemala’s Coffee Industry

  1. Guatemala is the ninth biggest coffee exporter in the world. Sharing 2.7 percent of the world’s coffee market, Guatemala is one of the largest coffee exporters in the world. Coffee, along with bananas, sugar and spices, accounts for 40 percent of all agricultural export revenue for the country. Major U.S. companies such as Starbucks, Kirkland and Dunkin Donuts source their coffee beans from Guatemala.
  2. The minimum employment age is 14. Guatemalan law prohibits children under the age of 14 from employment unless they are in extreme circumstances; however, the Guatemalan government has failed to enforce this labor law. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s human rights report in 2018, approximately 1 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are working in Guatemala. Child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry is more prevalent in rural areas where extreme poverty is more common.
  3. Children as young as 5 years old are working in hazardous conditions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s report on Guatemala’s labor condition in 2018, child coffee workers were using machetes and other tools that can pose a physical danger. Furthermore, the investigators found that child workers were also mixing and applying pesticides during their work. This is a violation of the International Labor Union’s (ILO) conventions on child labor, as it clearly puts under-aged children in work conditions that can harm their health and development.
  4. Guatemala’s child labor is linked to migrant coffee workers. Coffee harvest in Guatemala depends on a seasonal influx of migrant workers. These migrant workers come from the Guatemalan Highlands. Many migrant workers bring their wives and their children to a coffee farm. In order to increase the family income, children as young as 7 or 8 years old participate in coffee picking. Since these workers are not permanent workers, they usually do not demand year-round wages and benefits. This drives the wage down for coffee harvesters, which can limit access to food, health care, housing and education for their children.        
  5. Many coffee workers are internal migrants. The native population of Guatemala, most of whom are of Mayan descent, make up around 40 percent of the total population of the country. Many are migrant workers and they do not always speak Spanish, leaving them in a vulnerable position when negotiating labor conditions with their employers. Oftentimes, they do not receive payment for their labor, but rather buy food from the plantation owner on credit. As a result, many of these internal migrant families find themselves trapped by debt. Some plantation owners also withhold these families’ identification papers, making it extremely hard for them to leave their employers.
  6. Fluctuating coffee prices have major impacts on the poor coffee farmers and children of Guatemala. While demand for Guatemala’s coffee is increasing, many coffee farmers in Guatemala find themselves in poverty. The World Bank, in its 2019 article about Guatemala’s economy, stated that 48.8 percent of Guatemala’s population lives in poverty. When coffee prices rise, poor coffee worker families will withdraw their children from school to have them work as an extra field hand, causing an increase in child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry. When coffee prices fall, however, these families’ income decreases, which can also prevent their children from attending school.
  7. Children work under the watch of armed guards. Danwatch’s 2016 exposé documented migrant workers and their children picking coffee under the watch of armed guards. Under these kinds of conditions, it is not surprising that organizing a labor union is a major challenge for these workers. Labor union representatives of Guatemala can sometimes become the target of violence, armed attacks and even assassination. According to data from the International Trade Union Confederation, people murdered more than 53 union representatives between 2007 and 2013. 
  8. Major companies, such as Starbucks, are working with multiple certification organizations to produce ethically sourced coffee. Since 2004, Starbucks has complied with C.A.F.E (Coffee And Farmer Equity) Practices by working with organizations such as the Fair Trade U.S.A., Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and Utz. According to Conservation International’s (CI) 2018 report on the Starbucks C.A.F.E Practices from 2011 to 2015, 100 percent of the participating farms did not use children in their labor force. Furthermore, 100 percent of the participating farms ensured that children on the farm would have access to school education.
  9. The Guatemalan government has aid programs to alleviate child labor. According to the report on child labor and forced labor that the U.S. Department of Labor published in 2018, the Guatemalan government is sponsoring multiple programs that will alleviate child labor. One of these programs is the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education and Health Program (Mi Bono Seguro), which provides financial assistance to families with children as long as their children’s attendance to school is satisfactory. 
  10. Many nongovernment organizations are working to alleviate poverty for Guatemalan coffee workers. One organization, Pueblo a Pueblo, provides tools, training and support to the impoverished coffee farmers in Guatemala. One of the ways Pueblo a Pueblo does this is by teaching beekeeping to Guatemalan coffee farmers during the non-harvesting season of the year. The organization also assists Guatemalan coffee farmers impacted by the recent coffee rust epidemic. Watch this documentary for more information on Pueblo a Pueblo’s work. 

It can be easy for one to forget that a common food item, such as coffee, has a human cost in producing it. Stemming from the country’s civil war, child labor deeply links to the instability in Guatemala’s economy and government. When coffee farmers struggle to make ends meet, the danger of exploitation and violence increases for many poor coffee pickers and their children. These 10 facts about child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry show, however, that there are many people and organizations that are working to assist children and coffee workers in Guatemala. Through financial assistance, education and training in other agricultural disciplines, a better future awaits the children of Guatemala.  

 – YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Farming in AfricaAfrica is home to 54 countries, with 36 percent of people living on less than one dollar a day. Farming is how a large majority of Africans feed their family and generate revenue. Although the sweeping plains of East and South Africa are abundant in natural resources, there are still high levels of poverty among farmers. These 10 facts about farming in Africa will explain why farmers in Africa fall below the international poverty level.

10 Facts About Farming in Africa

  1. The Sahara Desert is growing. A future threat to farmers is the Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert. While most deserts’ boundaries expand and contract seasonally, data collected over the past 100 years shows that the Sahara grew by at least 11 percent and now takes up 3.6 million square miles of Northern Africa. As the places where people farm grow drier, famine and drought become more of a risk.
  2. Sub-Saharan Africa contains 19 of the 25 poorest countries in the world. This includes the Central African Republic, which is nearly self-sufficient in crops but ranks as the poorest country in Africa (681 GDP) due to poor livestock quality. Overall, this “horn” of the African continent contains a population of 626 million people, and 384 million—or 61 percent—of them are farmers.
  3. Roughly 65 percent of Africa’s population relies on subsistence farming. Subsistence farming, or smallholder agriculture, is when one family grows only enough to feed themselves. Without much left for trade, the surplus is usually stored to last the family until the following harvest. While subsistence farming is appealing to rural farmers because it allows families to be self-sufficient, it is heavily susceptible to climate change and works best when there is no drought or flood, which usually isn’t the case.
  4. Farmers suffer from Africa’s loss of share in world trade. Unfortunately, there are higher trade taxes placed on the continent compared to other regions. This is due to roads that lead toward ports rather than other countries, as well as rigorous tariffs and inspection laws between borders. Working to boost intra-African trade, regional economic communities (RECs) face immense challenges and policymakers are focusing on RECs in order to increase regional integration.
  5. Africa’s common cash crops are cocoa, cotton and coffee. Initially, cocoa was as a smallholder crop but has grown in popularity due to global demand. Robusta is a typical coffee bean grown in Africa, commonly used for instant coffee. It faces competition with the higher quality Arabica beans exported from Asia and South America. Overall, the exposure of cash crops to the world market has expanded growth in Africa but also slowly eroded farmer incomes. Cash crop farmers receive very small proportions of the final traded price.
  6. Women make up the largest share of the agricultural labor force in Africa. Although they produce 80 percent of the continent’s food, they are excluded from determining agricultural policies and certain laws deprive them of their land and livelihood. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that if women were given the same access to productive resources as men, crop yield could be increased 20 to 30 percent—in turn, reducing the number of world hunger up to 17 percent. https://www.farmafrica.org/what-we-do-1/women-in-the-field
  7. Africa has the largest number of child labor, and the agriculture sector accounts for most of it. In sub-Saharan Africa, child labor increased over the 2012 to 2016 period, in contrast to continued progress in the rest of the world. Most child labor is unpaid, going on in family farms and not between employment with a third-party.
  8. Countries with high child labor rates, like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, also report high school attendance rates at 90 percent. Families that do subsistence farming anecdotally report high career aspirations for their children. The high child labor rates are not necessarily an alternative to school, but an act performed for the necessary family income that leads to subsistence and high attendance rates. In a sense, child work often contributes to improving the family farm that they may eventually inherit.
  9. Focus on agribusiness can help improve the lives of farmers. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) promotes a focus on the chain of process: land tenure, farming technology, markets and pricing. Agribusiness also involves technology, such as mobile apps used as a means to reach farmers and track data on land conditions. By turning farming into an entrepreneurial endeavor, agribusiness could create the mass number of jobs needed for Africa’s youth.
  10. By increasing local production of chemical fertilizers, the lives of African farmers could improve. Globally, Africa consumes only one percent of fertilizer and produces even less. With high costs and short supply, African farmers pay up to six times the average price for fertilizer. If a farmer is living on one dollar a day, imported fertilizer is unaffordable. Increasing local production of fertilizer would reduce costs and shorten the supply chain to farmers.

Improving the lives of African farmers is possible through education and outside funding. USAID can focus on improving transportation networks for rural areas, as well as expanding the infrastructure of suppliers and markets. Through gender-equalizing laws and lowering tariffs, African farmers can also increase their benefits from their work. These 10 facts about farming in Africa show that African farmers make up a large majority of the world’s poor, and there is much to be done when it comes to improving their future.

– Isadora Savage
Photo: Flickr

fair trade coffee in Colombia
Colombia is a land known for its jungles, food and, of course, the coffee industry. Four million of  Colombians rely on the coffee bean for income. While coffee is the second most profitable industry in the world, 30 percent of the country still lives below the poverty line. These valuable coffee farmers are living on less than $2 a day, and yet are at the forefront of the global economy.

 

Coffee Farm Wage Discrepancies

This discrepancy is largely due to two factors: the middlemen are making 87 percent of the profits, and most farms are too small to become “fair trade certified” in order to sell fair trade coffee in Colombia. It is an unprofitable business for the growers but is central to Colombia’s and the world’s economies.

This disconnect perpetuates poverty in the country, as well as creates a lack of interest in the youth to continue the coffee business. Children grow up watching their parents struggle on the farms and receive little pay from buyers, and witnessing such hardship significantly impacts the next generation’s well-being and career foci. There is now a growing trend of these growing sons and daughters not only leaving their communities to escape rural poverty, but participating in criminal activity and gang life due to lack of education, and a support system elsewhere.

As the coffee farmers struggle, crime increases, and in a cyclic motion, so does poverty. Fair trade coffee in Colombia is key to abolishing such high rates of poverty within the economy.

The country has been taking measures to focus on growing profits from the industry and works to address the poverty issue at hand. The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation has been working to spread fair trade coffee in Colombia, transparent and fair prices and humane working conditions for farm workers.

 

One Improvement at a Time

Thanks to new and required minimum price lines on the beans, and large-scale corporations stepping in to help, Colombia is slowly improving living conditions for their farmers, making it a viable income for many. Making coffee have a required fee guarantees that farmers make a certain profit. The farmers can charge more if they’re able, but doing so deters buyers from taking advantage of the small farms.

Starbucks is one of the large corporations practicing direct trade in order to ensure fair price for both parties. They don’t buy from middlemen. They go straight to the farm. This practice is spreading slowly among coffee chains, thanks to the ethical sourcing being already embraced by a few.  

 

Fair Trade Certification

A huge problem in the improvement process of this industry is the price to become Fair Trade Certified. Most of the coffee farms are small and lack the funds to gain certification. Many even already implement the practices involved, but are not able to participate in the movement and thus cannot gain the associated Fair Trade Certified market advantages.

Due to this occurrence, the National Federation of Coffee Growers strives to give easier access to the certification of small farmers, and lower costs. The Federation has already implemented measures to improve the sustainability, working conditions and economic value of the coffee business as a whole.

 

Fair Trade and Colombia

Colombia has a goal now to be certified nationwide by 2027. The government is working very closely with the different organizations to achieve this and is making the coffee business the nation’s business.

Thanks to conscious buyers, and chains that buy directly from the farmers, the country might be able to pull through with this achievable goal. The movement for fair trade coffee in Colombia has already gained a significant amount of traction in the United States and Great Britain, and small coffee farmers could be the key to raising Colombia out of poverty.

– Emily Degn

Photo: Flickr