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Behind the scenes of coffee estates from Brazil, India & Ecuador

By: Miss Sasheera Mehrani Gounden

Nearly four centuries ago, a Muslim traveller named Baba Budan brought back seven coffee seeds from Yemen to India. He planted these seeds near a mountain, commonly known today as “The Cradle of Indian Coffee.” Budan paved the way for the current flourishing coffee industry in India. The British occupation led to the establishment of Arabica coffee estates throughout southern parts of India. India is reportedly known to export just over 80% of premium grade beans to parts of Japan, the Middle East and Europe. Italy, famous for its espresso blends imports coffee from India. India is one of the largest producers of Arabica and Robusta coffee. Brazil is known for its coffee and is one of the largest producers of the beans. Most of us are drawn to the romanticised history of coffee driven by television and print advertisements as well as 20-second digital marketing Nespresso “What Else?” campaigns, but-some are unaware of what truly occurs behind-the-scenes of coffee estates.

Unfair Child Labour Practices

Kodagu is a district that produces the most coffee in India. Coffee workers describe the nightmarish conditions they work under on the estate citing unfair or no remuneration and harassment as common unfair labour practices experienced during the coffee-harvesting season. Child labourers of the Tata Coffee plantation in India experience problems resulting in debt due to high recruitment fees and it is estimated that they pay one-third of their wages to recruitment managers. Guatemala is famous for its Arabica coffees; in fact, half of the GDP comes from the coffee production sector and contributes to a significant portion of foreign currency digested by the country. Guatemala’s thriving coffee production sector is built on unfair child labour practices of low wages, lack of transportation to estates and debt. Most workers of the estate have to work overtime to pay off any debt owed to their employers and they are not compensated for these hours. The debt incurred sets workers back due to high rental prices and emergency loans for healthcare provisions. Parents of children become desperate and send their kids to

work on coffee farms to earn an income for the family instead of attending school. As coffee prices rise, more children drop out of school to earn a living. In Brazil, children as young as six are forced to work on coffee plantations under poor conditions, working at least 10 hours a day and face exposure to deadly chemicals and overexposure to the sun during the coffee-harvesting season. Children working on coffee estates face numerous threats of snake bites and respiratory problems due to overexposure to pesticides and may also experience hearing loss.

Luxury Coffee Brands and its Impact on the Environment

To what extent would you go to collect and sample luxury brand coffees? The sweet aroma and acidic taste motivate coffee addicts to experiment with luxury coffee blends. Nespresso is reported to have an estimated net worth of $17 billion contributing to a significant portion of coffee sales in the European coffee market. Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts are two global coffee giants that account for over 30% of the coffee market, yet admit that they are not entirely certain about the labour practices on coffee farms in Brazil. Despite Nestlé’s Brazilian coffee supply chain findings; the brand has corrected its ways by reinforcing fair-trade measures to ensure ethically sound labour practices on coffee estates.

The production of exotic luxury coffee brands has a negative impact on the environment. Elephants in Thailand are forced to digest coffee beans and the excreted beans form an expensive Black Ivory blend. These elephants are kept under poor conditions that can be detrimental to their health. Indonesian, Kopi Luwak is another popular luxury coffee blend that originated from the process of collected excreted beans of a small mammal called the civet. The civet is exploited in a way that it is caged, isolated and force-fed coffee beans to produce luxury brand coffee for an elite consumer market. Sun-grown coffee harms soil content, depleting nutrients and decreasing the quality of the soil. The leftover of the coffee cherry is often discarded during the coffee production process and runs-off into rivers reducing the quality of water. Many harmful fungicides and fertilizers are used in coffee crops; most of these chemicals are banned in the EU yet are still used in countries such as Brazil.

Purchase Fair-Trade Certified Coffee

Fair-trade certified coffee is an indication that labourers are fairly compensated, free from unfair labour practices and work in a healthy and safe environment. By purchasing fair-trade certified coffee we increase the demand for coffee blends free from child labour abuse.

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