The use of child labour was one of the many problems detected at coffee farms and plantations in Brazil, Honduras and India, reports Finnwatch, a corporate responsibility watchdog.
The use of child labour was one of the many problems detected at coffee farms and plantations in Brazil, Honduras and India, reports Finnwatch, a corporate responsibility watchdog.

The cup of coffee you are drinking while reading this may have been produced by 5–6-year-old children or debt slaves working in forced labour-like conditions, reports Finnwatch.

The corporate responsibility watchdog has published a report examining the working conditions at coffee farms and plantations in Brazil, India and Honduras that have been used as a supplier by at least one major coffee roaster in the Nordics.

“A living wage appears still a distant dream to most coffee farm workers; child labour, discrimination and high recruitment fees are other examples of some of the key field research findings,” it states in a press release.

Child labour was found to be a widespread problem particularly in Honduras, reveals Anu Kultalahti, a researcher at Finnwatch. “Child labour was found at all investigated farms in Honduras, including certified farms. The youngest interviewees for our report were just five to six years old,” she reveals.

The main problem at one of the plantations examined in India, in turn, was high recruitment fees. Finnwatch reports that seasonal migrant workers at the plantation had to pay up to one-third of their earnings to labour brokers.

“Finnwatch notes that extortionate recruitment fees can lead to debt bondage, a form of forced labour,” it says in the report.

The working conditions were the best, although not entirely free of problems, in the farms and plantations investigated in Brazil. The recruitment practices at one of the plantations investigated, for example, were systematically discriminatory toward women, according to the corporate responsibility watchdog.

Finnwatch urges companies sourcing coffee from the country to use caution despite improvements in working conditions in the coffee sector of Brazil. Local authorities, it points out, have reported that working conditions at several companies and co-operatives supplying roasters in Europe, such as Gustav Paulig and Meira, are analogous to slavery.

Spokespersons for both Gustav Paulig and Meira have denied some of the problems, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

“Forced labour is absolutely in violation of our operating principles, and it cannot be tolerated. It is particularly unfortunate that one of these farms has supplied certified coffee also to us,” Katariina Aho, the head of procurements at Gustav Paulig, tells to the daily.

The farm in question, she adds, has not supplied coffee to Gustav Paulig since 2013.

Raimo Sinisalo, the managing director of Meira, underlines in a press release that the distributor of coffee and spices monitors the working conditions of workers employed by its suppliers regularly.

“Meira has invested considerably in developing and monitoring its responsibility criteria in recent years,” he states. “Meira's procurement company does not acquire coffee from the so-called blacklist companies nor is the green coffee they produce used in the products of Meira.”

Finnwatch also acknowledges that members of the coffee industry have notably increased the proportion of social sustainability standard-compliant green coffee of their procurements.

Arvid Nordquist and Kesko stand out in a comparison of coffee industry operators in Finland, as all of their own brand coffee products are already certified. Lidl, on the other hand, has adopted considerably less ambitious sustainability targets, whereas Meira and Tuko Logistics have no sustainability targets whatsoever for their green coffee purchases, the watchdog says.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Orlando Sierra – AFP/Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi