In general, coffee pickers, migrant workers and farmworkers are the most vulnerable groups involved in coffee production. Moreover, they have traditionally not been included in the coffee industry’s sustainability efforts.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor discovered widespread labor violations in coffee farms in Hawaii. Violations included “failures to pay workers minimum wage and overtime, exploiting migrant workers, illegally hiring coffee pickers as independent contractors, and exploiting children as young as 5 years old to pick coffee cherries .” This happened here, in the U.S.
Over the past few years, I have visited coffee farms all over the world in order to meet with coffee pickers and other farmworkers interested in participating in Fair Trade. They have expressed to me numerous existing challenges with their work. Following are some of the most common:
On several farms, especially in Central America, migrant workers face precarious housing conditions when they live on coffee farms with their families during harvest. There are many large, one-room warehouse-type constructions where 40-60 farmworkers and their families live with little access to mattresses, blankets, privacy or security. Workers often have to use limited number of latrines or the coffee fields as toilets, and must shower in the nearby rivers. Privacy, safety/security, and sanitation are not often found in migrant workers’ housing during the harvest. Many workers I have talked to in Central America and Colombia identified housing conditions as the most important issue they would like to see improved.