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When You Choose Specialty Coffee, You Fight Against Child Labour

Today is World Day Against Child Labour and we are wondering how can we contribute to the well-being of more chlidren by helping them go to school instead of carrying heavy coffee bags on their tiny shoulders

For better or worse, in today’s globalized world, we become more and more aware that we are all bound in some way. The butterfly effect that states that a minor change in a system can cause major changes in its later states, has been proven once again with the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

With each passing day we enrich our knowledge about the parallel universes which exist on our planet and which, although running in parallel, find a way to intersect and interact. They often depend on each other. They have their own structure, different levels of economic development and social justice. And they have different assessments of what is right and wrong and willing to impose their standards on others. These parallel universes we divide into First, Second and Third Worlds.

And through all of them we can easily trace the thin red line of coffee.

We know what is the effect on us, ordinary quality coffee lovers, the year-round work of coffe farmers on the other side of the world. We cherish the daily pleasure that the fruit of their work brings us. We live with their constant invisible presence in our home through their coffee. Undoubtedly, coffee farmers give us a lot.

We from DABOV Specialty Coffee insist on bringing justice to the table when we speak about luxury product such as coffee.

You can say that coffee is just a drink that you can probably do without. And you will probably be right. But we are addicted to the little things that fill our daily lives. They are our invisible support, those particles of our lives’ normality mechanism. The people who produce everything we consume, including coffee, give us a lot. What do we give them in return?

We do it because we know how many people in the world survive on it. And we realize it with every next farmer we shake hands with to offer you their coffees. The specialty coffee world is a glamorous industry with luxury drinks served in first-class restaurants, packaged in packages with an elegant design, bringing to its consumer not only pleasure but also prestige.

However, the specialty coffee world is also the world between two hands, roughened by hand-picking coffee under hot sun; the hands of those who may be illiterate but know when the cherry is perfectly ripe to pluck it for your coffee; the hands of those who often have two, three or more children to feed. Those of them who have luck, work in a bigger specialty coffee farm and have a roof over their head – a house or small workers villages. And they can afford to send their children at school instead of needing them to work on the field in order to make ends meet.

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Several generations from the big family farm Finca Valentina in Santa Barbara, Honduras.

Today is World Day Against Child Labour.

World Day Against Child Labour is organized by Global March Against Child Labour and in 2020 focuses on the impact of crisis of the COVID-19 health pandemic on child labour. UN states that there are an estimated 152 million children in child labour, 72 million of which are in hazardous work. Almost one in ten of all children worldwide are in child labour.

Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals calls for an end to child labour in all its forms by 2025. However, while the number of children in child labour has declined by 94 million since 2000, the rate of reduction slowed by two-thirds in recent years.

Of course, around the world, children participate in a number of paid or unpaid work activities that do not endanger their physical and mental health. They help according to their abilities on family farms and so they learn a lot about how they function. Thus, they are preparing to replace their mothers and fathers as top coffee producers in the future.

We are talking about exploitation of child labor when children are below the legal age for work or when they work in hazardous conditions. And in underdeveloped countries – in the Third World, about one in four children (between 5 and 17 years old) suffers from it.

Child labor in the coffee industry

Coffee farmers typically earn only 7–10% of the retail price of coffee and in Brazil, workers earn less than 2% of the retail price according to Food Empowerment Project. When the price of coffee rises, the incentive for struggling families to withdraw their children from school and send them to work increases. In a bad for the coffee crop year, the fall in coffee prices increases poverty in regions that depend on the crop and this also prevents children from attending school. Since higher levels of education are tied to higher income over the long term, and children from poor families are those most likely to be sent to work rather than school. Child labour is a vicious circle that many families can’t escape for generations, and some – never.

17 coffee producing countries maybe use child labour. In 2015, in Brazil about 5000 children worked without contracts.

A study in Brazil found that child labor rates were approximately 37% higher than average in regions where coffee is produced. There school enrollment is with 3% lower. Children as young as six years old often work eight to 10 hours a day and are exposed to the many health and safety hazards of coffee harvesting and processing, from dangerous levels of sun exposure and injuries, to poisoning from contact with agrochemicals.

During the coffee-harvesting season in Honduras, up to 40% of the workers are children. Children, and women, are hired as temporary workers and are therefore paid even less than adult male workers. In Kenya, for instance, they often only make about $12.00 a month. Regulations against child labor do exist in coffee-producing countries, but economic pressures make authorities in these regions reluctant to enforce the law.

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Jordan Dabov with Ethiopian children in front of their school in 2018 while our coffee hunter was visiting Ethiopia.

In 2018, Brazilian farmers earned just $0,01 for a cup or about $2 per kg coffee. $1,90 is the official world extreme poverty line in 2019. That same year, Uganda coffee farmers earned $0,05 per member of household, and Ethiopia and Kenya farmers – $0,14.

Two huge global companies, Starbucks and Nespresso, were forced to stop working with several farms in Guatemala when a Channel 4 investigation this year found that child labor was being carried out there illegally. However, this withdrawal by the giants is contradictory, according to one of the investigative journalists.

He argued that when companies stop buying coffee from a farm, they actually punish farmers and their families without addressing the problem in the long run. One of the logical solutions to reducing child labour would be for large corporations to simply start paying a higher price for labour, all the more so because Starbucks, for example, has annual revenues of more than £20 billion.

Is it possible to pay more to the farmer to avoid child labour?

The Weather Channel and Telemundo’s investigation describes a similar situation of child exploitation in Chiapas, Mexico. The harvest season there is from October to March. About 30 000 seasonal workers come from Guatemala with their families there. Annual coffee business revenue is $80 billion but insiders think that large companies prefer not to solve the existing problems because to do so they will have to pay higher wages to farmers at the expense of their own profit. Coffee industry is highly segmented and this helps hide profits – while coffee reaches the end customer, it starts its way from the producer and passes through byuers, processors, transport companies, exporters, importers and roasters.

Conducting inspections to detect irregularities

In coffee industry, surprise inspections from certifying organizations help regulate problems such as child labour. Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and Utz condust such inspections every year. In 2016, the association 4C – Common Code for the COffee Community, was created together with Nestlé.

Together with other organizations that aim at sustainable development, 4C forms the World Coffee Platform and conducts inspections once every 3 years. But how can all 25 million farmers around the world?

Local social and economic reasons for child labour

Many of Latin America, Asia and Africa communities have long bid farewell to colonialism and slavery but still are steeped in the relentless poverty of undeveloped economies. And this is the reason for child labour that is difficult to be extinguished as it depends on many players.

When parents face hunger as their biggest and most imminent enemy, they ignore health, education, safety, or morale and let their children haul heavy sacks day after day. They just want their children to survive. In the impoverished communities of many coffee-producing nations, child labor is a necessity and a way of life.

Not everyone is reflexively appalled by the thought of young children picking cherries alongside their parents.

Many researchers have suggested to UNICEF and the International Labour Organization that children under 15 should be allowed to work when and where it’s appropriate – but with strong safeguards and stepped-up labor enforcement for all children younger than 18. This way hunger and lack of care when their parents leave for the farms could be diminished.

How do specialty coffee producers fight child labour?

Specialty coffee producers invest in their workers and prefer to work with whole communities because high quality results are not easily and quickly achieved. Some bigger farms even invest in own daycare centers and creches.

We at DABOV Specialty Coffee support the specialty coffee producers by never bargaining for the price they ask for and we do not work with intermediaries. We pay the price for the farmers’ labour and we know that money reaches those who need them.

Finca El Puente makes donations for two schools

When we spoke to Marysabel Caballero from Finca El Puente, Honduras in 2018, when she vsited us in Sofia, she said, “You know, I think that when you believe in God you have to treat people as you want them to treat you and you have to share your blessings. Market is tough but I can tell you that we have very good buyers, the best buyers – rosters. Thanks to them and the fact that they give us good price for our coffee, we can do it, we can share with everybody. This is a way to live better. Even socially because if people around you are feeling good, you will feel good. They care about you because they know you care about them. They know that if this year is good, their lives will be better as well.

marysabel-moises-jordan-dabov
Marysabel Caballero and Moises Herrera with Jordan Dabov during their visit to Bulgaria in 2018.

What do these words mean exactly? Each year, Marysabel and her husband, Moises Herrera, with whom she runs the farm, choose one employee and help him with what he needs right the most, such as constructing a whole house for him, for example!

In 2014, they donated land to build a school, La Escuela De La Piedrona. They also employ their pickers throughout the season, pay higher than usual wages, and one of the workers’ tasks outside the harvest season is to remove weeds by hand.

Marysabel and Moises support two schools that are situated close to their farms – donate textbooks, backpacks for children, some materials for the teachers, sometimes simple things like one soccer ball. They even built a dining room for the kids because the government provides food for them kids, but they don’t have a place to eat.

This year, we bought 10 coffee lots from Finca El Puente as we know what are the benefits for the local community from this.

The Naandi Foundation brings life back to Araku by sending girls to school

Naandi Foundation organizes coffee competition Gems of Araku since 2009 (this year our own Jordan Dabov participated there as a juror) in Araku, South India. For the past 20 years they have supported local farmers.

Nestled in the Eastern Ghats of India, Araku Valley is in the state of Andra Pradesh. It is home to generations of indigenous communities who produce coffee, pepper, mango and guava. More than a decade ago, the largest social enterprise in India, Naandi Foundation, started operating in this region.

Naandi have helped coffee farmers in the Araku Valley to form the collective Small Farmer Organic Cooperative Society (SAMTFMACS). Today, it includes 10,500 small farmers. They grow coffee that combines top-quality Arabica flavour with a commitment to environmental sustainability and socio-economic empowerment. Thanks to direct trade without an intermediary, more revenue is generated, which is distributed among producers.

The coffee from the Araku Valley is organic and no child labour has been used to produce it. It relies on a whole new kind of production and consumption practices in the region, inspired by traditional community values such as sharing everything and caring for all.

When Naandi entered the region, basic rights, that the Indian Constitution promises its people like primary health care, good schooling, safe drinking water and sanitation were denied to these communities. The region has transformed itself from a bio diverse agro forestry belt into an eco-fragile region in the years before. For these 20 years, however, more than 2 million fruit trees have been planted with Naandi’s help.

Naandi’s first and main task in the region was to send all the girls to school. It then builds on their education with additional courses to develop their full potential. It also implemented a supported motherhood program with the help of a non-governmental organisation, thereby minimising maternal mortality. In recent years the foundation has also organized a youth volleyball tournament among 400 teams from 200 villages in the valley.

According to Araku Coffee, the specialty coffee brand that Naandi develops with local farmers, the pandemic has shown us how important it is to support small businesses and be responsible in our choices. Their idea is that we need to change the current economic system to a capitalism based on cooperation, in which the highest values are people and mutual aid.

This year, we bough the Araku auction winners – the first 4 winning coffee for a price that their producers never dreamt of. Again with the strong belief that this will help the local community develop.

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Children at Finca La Virgen attending school.

In Finca La Virgen local children go to school

In Finca La Virgen, Nicaragua, owners believe in providing good living conditions for their employees and investing in programs that reward workers’ efforts. They offer fair pay and individual homes for farm workers and access to a good education for both children and parents.

On their farm, children do not work, but go to school and there is medical care provided for everyone, even for the community outside the farm. Finca La Virgen supports social and sporting events, works for integration among community members and promotes educational practices.

This year we were unable to buy coffee from our friend Gabriela, but she is on our list of farmers who take care of their communities.

Moplaco supports two schools

Moplaco in Ethiopia, supports two schools in the areas where its farms are located – in Irgachefe, is the Adame school and in Sidamo, is the Segera school. For both, the farm accepts donations to pay for school supplies, uniforms, and even running water. The Segera school is attended daily by 1,200 students.

This year we bought 2 lots from Moplaco and with that we hope to support the local community.

All our activities at Dabov Specialty Coffee are aimed at fair trade and paying a fair and decent price for the work of the farmer who takes care of his community.

We believe in Mahatma Gadhi’s words:

„Be the change you want to see in the world“.


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