The report “Understanding the Situation of Workers in Corporate and Family Coffee Farms”, the Sustainable Trade Platform Colombia (Solidaridad) and the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Sustainability Council contribute with key information to current discussions in the coffee industry. The document appeals specially to those most interested in the sustainability of the value chain and in making the supply of high quality coffee viable. The research was conducted in Colombia and Nicaragua between January and March 2016, with the aim to conduct an analysis based on the experiences of workers, producers and organisations.
As a product traded worldwide, the financial importance of coffee is also linked to its role representing the livelihood of thousands of farming families in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Price volatility and crop variation have a strong impact on millions of rural workers. In terms of income and well-being, workers are one of the most vulnerable actors of the coffee chain.
Issues related to labour availability in coffee producing countries and workers’ welfare are currently key discussion points amongst the industry and practitioners. Production volatility in certain areas creates a cycle of shortages and unemployment. In some countries, demographic evolution and rising opportunities in different economic sectors turn labour shortage into a structural issue. As a result, production costs have increased in some regions whilst in other areas coffee production is becoming unfeasible.
Quality coffee and labour availability are closely related. This is also the case of the need to manually select and harvest the ripe fruit, and the producer’s ability to manage pests such as berry borer or coffee rust. Labour availability is redrawing the map of coffee production areas in several countries and challenging the definition of high quality and commercially viable coffee in the coming years.
This study contributes to the growing body of evidence documenting that there are structural problems related to labour that need to be resolved in order to achieve sustainability in the coffee sector.