One of These Things is Not Like the Other
In my previous installment of “Child Labor, Chocolate, and Coffee”, we learned about how children get involved in the child labor industry and the dangers of harvesting and manufacturing chocolate. In this blog, we’ll explore the coffee industry and the dangerous, and often, brutal work that children are subjected to.
On average, Brazilian coffee farmers earn only 7–10% of the retail price of coffee and workers earn less than 2% of the retail price. To make enough to live day-to-day, many parents remove their children from school to work on the coffee plantations. It’s sad how often children are forced to work instead of being able to go to school and gain an education.
Since higher levels of education are tied to higher income over the long term, poor families will often send their children to work, instead of school. Child labor continues to be a part of the cycle of poverty over generations and generations. It’s so important for children to go to school and stay in school. Farmers need to be paid a reasonable wage in order to keep their jobs, support their families, and be able to keep their children from entering the workforce at an early age.
One study in Brazil discovered that child labor standards were approximately 37% higher—and school enrollment 3% lower—than average in regions where coffee is produced. This means that in the seasons where coffee is being produced more, fewer children are in school
Children as young as six years old often work 8 to 10 hours a day. During these long hours, these young children are being exposed to various health and safety hazards that come with the coffee harvesting process. Health risks such as dangerous levels of sun exposure and injuries to poisoning from contact with agrochemicals, as mentioned in the previous blog.
Even though human trafficking and child labor is still in effect, there are those who are rescued and organizations that work to rescue people in these situations. Organizations like the International Justice Mission (IJM) work to rescue people in slavery and trafficking. IJM is the largest international anti-slavery organization in the world, working to rescue slaves, work with the local police to throw slave owners in jail, and put the slave trade out of business for good.
In Brazil, hundreds of workers are rescued from slave-like conditions. In 2016, two of the world’s biggest coffee companies (accounting for 39% of the global coffee market), Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, admitted that slave labor is a possible factor in their Brazilian supply of coffee. Nestlé admitted they acquire coffee from two plantations with known forced labor and they cannot “fully guarantee that it has completely removed forced labor practices or human rights abuses” from their supply chain.
So, what does all of this have to do with mental health? Well, when we think about mental health, we need to remember that part of taking care of ourselves, not just our mental health, involves our physical health. Eating fun goodies like chocolate and drinking coffee excessively can have detrimental impacts on our body over time. Being aware of what’s happening in the world around us is also important. Isolating ourselves too much from what’s happening can be dangerous. It’s pertinent that we have passions and topics that we care about and want to learn more about. It keeps us engaged and keeps us focused and our minds sharp.
It’s important that we make responsible choices when it comes to purchasing our food and drinks. Certain companies employ people from around the world who they know will be working in safe conditions and be working for the money they deserve in order to feed their families. These companies are called, “fair trade” organizations. “Fair trade” means exactly what it sounds like, it’s a movement whose goal is to help producers in developing countries to get a fair price for their products so as to reduce poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of workers and farmers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices. We can feel good about supporting fair trade organizations. The very nature of fair trade insures the farmers and workers have all been paid a living wage for their efforts and there are no forced laborers, such as children.
As far as child labor goes, it is still happening. But how can we stop it? Here is an organization, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), that supports solutions and campaigns for ending child labor: https://laborrights.org/issues/child-labor
This websites shows you fair-trade brands you can keep an eye out for next time you’re shopping! http://fairtradeamerica.org/Fairtrade-Products/Coffee
By Sara Corcoran, Undergraduate Counseling Intern
Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc.