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Modern Slavery in the Coffeelands

During the summer of 2013, we learned quite by accident that 15 coffee estates in Brazil were included in the government’s “Dirty List,” an official registry of farms and firms found to be profiting from what the country’s laws define as modern-day slavery.

We turned for insight to a long-time CRS partner in São Paulo called Repórter Brasil, a non-profit organization led by a famous Brazilian journalist that reports on labor issues.  We asked his organization to help CRS do four things:


1. Understand what constitutes slave labor on coffee plantations in Brazil: How does Brazil define slave labor?  What does it mean to be on the Dirty List?  What does slave labor look like in the context of the coffee chain?

2. Estimate the scope of the problem: How widespread is slave labor in Brazil’s coffee sector?  Are the cases documented on the Dirty List isolated instances?  Or are they representative of a broader reality?

3. Identify root causes/risk factors: What are the causes of slave labor?  Are there specific factors that increase the risk that farmworkers will be employed in slave/forced labor conditions?

4. Trace coffee from plantations employing slave labor: Identify specific commercial channels into which coffee grown on plantations cited with slave labor violations is being sold.


Two of these lines of inquiry—the second and fourth—didn’t yield much. Over the next few days, as part of our commitment to foster dialogue about farm labor in the coffee sector, we will share here what we came up with on the other two.

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 This post is the first in an eight-part series on the CRS Coffeelands blog about modern slavery in Brazil’s coffee sector.  The series draws on research coordinated by CRS and conducted by Repórter Brasil with the generous support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and allies working in the coffee sector, including: Allegro Coffee Company, CRS Fair Trade, Fair Trade USA, Equal Exchange, Keurig Green Mountain, Lutheran World Relief, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, United Farmworkers, UTZ Certified and others.  The views expressed in this series are those of its author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the companies or organizations that provided financial support for the research that informed this series.

Next: Brazil and the “S-Word”

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