Cooperation On Fair, Free, Equitable Employment (COFFEE) Project

Addressing Child Labor and Forced Labor in Coffee Supply Chains in Latin America
Project Duration
December 2017
December 2024
Funding and Year

The United States is the leading importer of coffee, with Brazil and Colombia as the top suppliers. But before that coffee reaches our cups, tens of millions of workers globally select, pick, and process the beans. Many of those workers are children – toiling in the fields rather than learning in school. This project helps businesses establish systems to prevent, detect, and eliminate child labor and other forms of labor exploitation from their supply chains, and it is assembling a powerful coalition of coffee buyers to collectively incentivize suppliers into compliance.

The Problem

Most coffee harvesters are paid piece rates according to the amount of coffee harvested, contributing to sub-minimum wages, compulsory overtime, and child labor. Many coffee workers are indigenous men, women, and children who come from marginalized populations vulnerable to labor violations. There have been reports of several practices that may indicate forced labor in coffee production, such as widespread use of recruitment fees, document retention, indebtedness to company stores, restrictions on freedom of movement, child labor, and overtime and minimum wage violations. In some cases, children and pregnant women are exposed to pesticides without personal protective equipment. Weak government enforcement of labor laws and an uncoordinated, fragmented, ineffective response from the private sector enable systemic labor violations to continue unabated in the coffee sector.

Our Strategy

The project centers on the creation of trainings, guidance materials, and tools to enable industry actors to implement robust and sustainable social compliance systems,in the global coffee sector to reduce child labor, forced labor, and unacceptable working conditions in business operations and supply chains. The project is piloting a subset of these tools with private sector and industry association partners in three key coffee-producing countries (Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico). The pilots themselves are generating significant impact and provide opportunities for expansion and replication. Lessons learned from these pilots  are informing the project’s global compliance system and toolkit.

Key to the project’s success is a powerful coalition of major international coffee brands, coffee traders and producers, industry associations, certifiers, and other key stakeholders in the United States and pilot countries. This coalition plays a critical role in helping the project establish a global social compliance system and toolkit to eradicate forced and child labor and wage, hour, and health and safety violations from their supply chains.


  • Aligned with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Comply Chain app, Verité developed 31 tools, with inputs from a range of stakeholders to implement sustainable social compliance systems to mitigate labor rights violations. The tools have been disseminated to over 2,400 people in the coffee sector, and Verite has trained over 140 people on the use to the tool. The suite of tools has been published online, and can be found here: Verité’s pilot projects also contribute to ongoing sectoral dialogues on critical issues facing the coffee sector:
  • In Brazil, Verité is increasing understanding of recruitment dynamics and related risks in the Brazilian coffee sector. Small coffee farmers received simple booklets and training to help them understand their obligations. With the support of the project, Brazilian farmers have also taken it upon themselves to upgrade housing for migrant workers, providing them with safe, healthy living space during the harvest season.
  • In Mexico, Verité built the capacity of coffee producers, agronomists, field technicians, certifiers and monitors to identify and address labor issues in the coffee sector through trainings that focus on increasing understanding of international standards and Mexican law; aiding in the identification of forced labor, child labor, and other labor abuses in the Mexican coffee sector; and identifying and remediating root causes of labor exploitation.
  • In Colombia, Verité piloted innovative payment models to improve working conditions for coffee harvesters, including vulnerable women and Venezuelan migrants.
Implementing Partners:
Catholic Relief Services, Institute for the National Pact to Eradicate Slave Labor (InPACTO)
Contact Information: / Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT)
Child Labor
Private Sector
Supply Chains
Working Conditions