The best way to prevent child labour is to pay coffee pickers a fair living wage
Vancouver (16 July 2006) - The British Columbia Government and Services' Employees (BCGEU/NUPGE) is doing its part to support fair trade in coffee.
BCGEU representatives met recently with partners from coffee cooperatives in Central America to review the benefits for agricultural workers from a solidarity project, called Café Etico. Participants included Lesbia Morales, who represents a Gutemalan coffee co-op; Encarnacion Suarez Obregon, who represents ACOPAN, a co-op in Nicaragua; BCGEU vice-president Colleen Jones and BCGEU coordinator Nancy Gillis.
The project involves the sale in B.C. of organic coffee produced by cooperative members who receive a fair price for their beans. Café Etico products are served at BCGEU offices across the province.
Buying and using fair trade coffee is an easy and practical way to help Third World coffee workers, who are often subject to sweatshop wages and abysmal working conditions.
Guatemala offers a good example. According to Global Exchange, Guatemalan workers must pick a 45-kilogram (100-pound) quota in order to get the minimum wage of less than $3 US a day.
More than half earn less than the minimum wage
A study of Guatemalan plantations revealed that over half of all coffee pickers are paid less than the national minimum wage.
They were often forced to work overtime without pay and most failed to receive legally-mandated benefits. Total average income reported was the equivalent of $127.37 US a month.
Many coffee pickers require help from their children to pick their daily quota. Since child workers are not officially employed, they enjoy no labor protection at all. Children as young as six or eight years old have been found working work in the fields of Guatemala.
"We believe that the best way to prevent child labor in the fields is to pay workers a living wage," Global Exchange says.
"The rural nature of farm work makes (agricultural workers) especially vulnerable to threats and coercion. Many countries have adequate labor laws such as minimum wage, mandated health and safety requirements, and freedom to form a union, but these rights are usually not enforced."
What can First World consumers do to support fair grade?
Consumers can play a powerful role in demanding that coffee companies offer the choice to buy Fair Trade Certified coffee. They can demand that companies take responsibility for the working conditions of the people who produce the product that makes their business successful.
- Buy fair trade certified coffee.
- Ask for fair trade certified coffee where you shop.
- Drop a note in the suggestion box at your local grocery store or café.
- Get involved in the fair trade movement.
- Check out Ten Things You Can Do for Fair Trade for more suggestions. NUPGE