Cooperation On Fair, Free, Equitable Employment (COFFEE) Project
The United States is the leading importer of coffee, accounting for over 18 percent 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 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.
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. 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, even children and pregnant women 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 facilitates 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. 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 will generate significant impact and provide opportunities for expansion and replication. Lessons learned from these pilots will be used to refine the project’s global compliance system and toolkit.
Key to the project’s success will be 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 a Socially Sustainable (S3T) toolkit consisting of 12 tools with inputs from a range of stakeholders to implement sustainable social compliance systems to mitigate labor rights violations. An expert committee and advisory council reviewed and validated the S3T, which helped the project determine the selection of tools to pilot in each country. Verité’s pilot projects also contribute to ongoing sectoral dialogues on critical issues facing the coffee sector:
- In Mexico, Verité is building the capacity of coffee producers, agronomists, field technicians, certifiers and monitors to identify and address labor issues in the coffee sector through a series of 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. The series of trainings also include how to use the set of tools developed through the COFFEE Project to improve labor conditions in the coffee sector.
- In Colombia, Verité is piloting innovative payment models to improve working conditions for coffee harvesters, including vulnerable women and Venezuelan migrants.
- In Brazil, Verité is increasing understanding of recruitment dynamics and related risks in the Brazilian coffee sector. It is also providing coffee producers, traders, and roasters with tools and trainings to help identify and reduce these risks in their supply chains.