I read one day in a magazine that coffee beans have over 800 flavor characteristics -that is more than double the amount wine has.
We drink a lot of coffee and we talk a lot about coffee. It’s taste is something that we cannot have enough of, every day. To enjoy a cup of coffee is a simple and accessible pleasure. You can stop at the coffee shop around the corner, or buy a pack from the endless coffee shelves of any supermarket. The supermarket coffee offer is amazing. International brands, local brands, all types of pack sizes, shapes and flavours. Shelf prices vary of course, however they gravitate around 65 and 70 RON per kg (14.4 – 15.5 EUR per kg).
In spite of the diversity of the offer, there is something that all those coffee packs have in common. When you take one home, open it and prepare a cup and take a first sip, there is an ever present taste that you do not distinguish easily, hidden behind your lack of awareness or your choice to look the way: that taste is a mix of blood, sweat and tears.
Coffee is a huge business. Coffee is one of the most valuable products in world trade. There are over 25 million coffee farmers in the world. Growing coffee is a labour intensive activity that in many instances yields very little financial return.
To balance this, in many farms, workers are paid little or nothing. This is modern slavery -using workforce and paying it below standards or not paying it at all. This is what gives that mixed taste of blood, sweat and tears.
Some of us do not know this. Some, do and decide to look another way and find excuses: “forced labor” free products are difficult to find and if you find them, they are more expensive.
Well, I got news.
I do my weekly grocery shopping at Mega Image chain of supermarkets in Bucharest. I was pleasantly surprised to find Fair Trade coffee on the shelves:
The price is great, in line per kg with the price of other international coffee brands: around 68 RON/kg (15.1 eur.kg). The product is a premium private label of Delhaize, Mega Image’s mother ship.
So, this is how my groceries bags looked like yesterday:
One important comment. I respect Mega Image for listing these products. However, they do not do this purposely. They sell Fair Trade Coffee products under the BIO section. Mega Image is very proud by their BIO sortiments and for their Corporate Social Responsibility activities. I checked their website and they do a fantastic job in promoting their CSR programs. Unfortunately, I found no word about human trafficking and about Fair Trade products:
There is a long way ahead to make the Romanian society and the business community aware of human trafficking, and modern slavery.
In Romania, the Government does a lot of efforts via ANITP, the National Agency against Trafficking in Persons. Maximilian Nicolae, Head of Prevention of ANITP, considers that:
Although it has been on the international agenda since 2000, human trafficking as crime and social phenomenon still remains a reality that needs a sustained and continuous effort from the international bodies from each country, but also from the entire society. The reaction against human trafficking involves several aspects: as illegal economic activity, human trafficking is one of the main financial resources of organized crime; as major infringement of the fundamental human rights it is an attack of human dignity which Romania cannot overlook; as illegal border activity it is an element that threatens security and an important area of cooperation inside the EU and in partnership with countries, regions and third international organizations.
There are also lots of NGOs like ADPARE and eLiberare (both of them amazing recipients of enduring leadership, passion and commitment), that work in the front line of Human Trafficking. Efforts are made as well by private institutions like Bancpost.
We just cannot look the other way, once we know. We work hard for our own money, but this doesn’t mean to indulge ourselves in conspicuous consumption and careless shopping for products that encourage the illegal international trade.
Look for the Fair Trade logo on the products you buy. It is easy to spot it on the front panel of a product. In many countries, you can find it already on coffee, tea, chocolate:
You can learn more about Fair Trade on their website. In a nutshell:
Fair trade is an alternative approach to conventional trade based on a partnership between producers and traders, businesses and consumers. The international Fairtrade system – made up of Fairtrade International and its member organizations – represents the world’s largest and most recognized fair trade system.
Another good resource for knowing more about Human Trafficking in Supply Chains is Know the Chain. I quote from their site:
Today, our goods are often produced far from where they are bought, successively changing hands along complex and opaque supply chains. But in an increasingly interconnected world, governments, consumers, and investors expect companies to provide greater transparency into their supply chains and to take responsibility for the labor practices within them.
Exploited through force, fraud, or coercion, tens of millions of adults and children are living in conditions of modern-day slavery around the world. Human trafficking is a complex human rights issue that poses a risk to companies active across sectors and geographies. The base of many supply chains is marred by forced and child labor, with documented abuses in common agricultural and extractive commodities like cotton and gold. In other cases, such as garment factories and tobacco farms around the world, deceptive manpower agencies confiscate identity documents and charge exorbitant fees to migrant workers seeking employment – creating conditions of debt bondage and labor exploitation.
Learn more about Human Trafficking on The NO Project web site – a wealth of useful links and commentaries can guide you through a web of deception, illusion and fierce reality.
How does your coffee taste now? Same? Different? Think again. Do not be a part of the problem. Make shopping choices also from other person perspective, not only your perspective. Low price doesn’t mean always a well thought through value chain. It often hides a crime that you should not be a part of.
Photo credit: Coffee from Shutterstock.