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402. Farmworkers

2014-03-26 Comments Off on 402. Farmworkers

A month from today, at the 2014 SCAA Expo, CRS will help start something that is long overdue in specialty coffee: a conversation about farmworkers.

For me personally, the conversation will bring some things full circle.

Ten years ago this month, I started working on coffee for CRS, taking the reins of the CRS Fair Trade Coffee Project.  I started by asking lots of questions and doing lots of listening.

Ten years ago next month, I took my listening tour to Atlanta for my first SCAA event, where I asked everyone who I could buttonhole what they saw as the biggest challenges to sustainability (and how they thought CRS could help address them).

For the Fair Trade movement CRS was joining, it was a tumultuous time.  The memories of the coffee price crisis of 2001 were still fresh, and rumors of Fair Trade Certification for coffee estates persisted despite a 2003 pledge that it wouldn’t happen.  Many of the discussions were barbed.  There was one thing, however, it seemed everyone could agree on: that farmworkers were the most vulnerable actors in specialty coffee supply chains.  Especially migrant workers.

In my experience, that baseline assessment–that farmworkers are the most vulnerable actors in specialty coffee chains–hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years.  During that time, there have been important innovations in sustainable sourcing, but most, it seems, related to smallholders, with few new industry-wide initiatives to improve conditions for farmworkers.

For CRS, farmworkers remain a real blind spot.  (In fact, it is only today, after more than four years of blogging on sustainability in coffee, that I have added an entry for “farmworkers” to the list of content categories.)  As an agency, our coffee “IQ” remains much higher for smallholder production systems than estates dependent on large numbers of farmworkers.  My strong sense is that holds true for most people in specialty coffee.

One month from today, I will have the privilege of hosting a conversation designed to increase awareness of challenges and opportunities for farmworkers–always the first step on the long path to action.  Driving the discussion will be:

  • Erik Nicholson–United Farm Workers
    Erik has been organizing farmworkers for more than a quarter-century.  He will bring the considerable knowledge he has built through that experience to bear on the conversation and introduce the results of a new survey UFW has done on legal protections for farmworkers in coffee-producing countries.  Erik also serves on the Board of Directors at Fair Trade USA
  • Miguel Zamora–Fair Trade USA
    Ten years ago, Fair Trade USA (then TransFair USA) was compelled during the SCAA event to dismiss rumors that Fair Trade Certification of estates was imminent.  At this year’s event, Fair Trade USA will be two years into estate certification pilots designed to do what no certifier has done before: organize and empower farmworkers.  Miguel Zamora is an intellectual and material author of those pilots, and presents preliminary results.
  • Marco Antonio Camilo–Ipanema Agricola
    Marco Antonio is a farmworker on a Brazilian coffee estate particpating in one of the FTUSA-supported pilot projects.  He will speak from his own lived experience on the challenges and opportunities facing farmworkers in specialty coffee.
  • Pascale Schuit–Union Hand-Roasted Coffee
    Pascale directs producer relations for London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee.  Several years ago, she was troubled by the number of children she saw in the coffee fields during a sourcing visit to Central America.  When she told the owners of the roastery, they sent her back to research the issue more thoroughly.  Pascale presents the results of the Union Hand-Roasted study.

Join the conversation on Saturday, 26 April at 9 am in room 201 at the Seattle Convention Center.  Simultaneous translation bewteen English and Spanish will be available.