Cooperation On Fair, Free, Equitable Employment (COFFEE) Project
The United States is the leading importer of coffee, accounting for over 18% of total coffee imports in the world, 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 workers are children – toiling in the fields rather than learning in school. This project will help businesses establish systems to prevent, detect and eliminate child labor and other forms of labor exploitation from their supply chains, and it will assemble a powerful coalition of coffee buyers to collectively incentivize suppliers into compliance.
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 with low levels of education who come from marginalized populations vulnerable to labor violations. Reports have detected a range of forced labor indicators in coffee production, such as widespread use of recruitment fees, document retention, indebtedness to company stores, restrictions on freedom of movement, child labor, overtime and minimum wage violations. In some cases, even pregnant women and children are exposed to pesticides without personal protective equipment. Weak government enforcement of labor laws and an uncoordinated, fragmented, ineffective response of the private sector enable systemic labor violations to continue unabated in the coffee sector.
The project will facilitate sustained, sector-wide change in labor practices through an integrated strategy. The project centers on the creation of a global compliance system and toolkit to enable industry actors to implement robust and sustainable social compliance systems, along with guidance materials and trainings for key stakeholders in the global coffee sector to reduce child labor, forced labor, and unacceptable working conditions in business operations and supply chains. A subset of these tools will be piloted with private sector and industry association partners in three key coffee-producing countries (Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico). The pilots themselves will generate significant impact and provide opportunities for expansion and replication, and lessons learned from these pilots will be used to refine the global compliance system and toolkit.
A key aspect of the proposed strategy is assembling 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 in order to establish a social compliance system and toolkit to eradicate forced and child labor, and wage, hour and health and safety violations from their supply chains.