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Child Labor: A Topic to Tackle

This month we are choosing to report on a very delicate matter - child labor in the coffee community. This subject has come up time and time again at our Tea & Coffee World Cup symposiums. I have yet to see this topic discussed in a coffee industry publication. So, in a two-part series, we first take up the task of discussing the various aspects and causes of child labor in coffee. In next month’s issue we will look at what is being done to improve the welfare of these children. What are coffee companies doing to try to make our industry one that we can feel good about? And what agencies and governments are trying to abolish any harmful child labor altogether? We will try to bring you the answers to these important, and sensitive questions.

The family often works as a unit in coffee plantations. I have personally visited coffee farms where the children accompany their parents in the field and join them in picking beans as well as playing with other children. One of many questions I have posed to manufacturers of tea and coffee is “What was the most interesting object you found in your containers that wasn’t tea or coffee?” I heard the answer “dolls,” repeated time after time. Yes, children were often present in the fields but not necessarily oppressed into labor. But where do we draw the line?

As an industry we should care about every segment of our trade, as well as the consumer. The consumer will not necessarily devote the time necessary to understand the subject. The slightest insinuation that any child labor, slave or not, taints coffee beans could taint the consumer’s taste for the product. How many times have major manufacturers been boycotted for things they were not responsible for or had no control over? Therefore it is imperative that we as industry members know the facts.

But a “one size fits all” solution is in no way the answer to this problem (or any of this nature, for that matter). I know it is tempting when public relations is such an integral part of a business, especially ours. But our solution isn’t as simple as being politically correct. Due to the poverty in the producing nations, child labor is not just a black and white issue. Obviously, the most harsh forms of child labor must be eliminated, but we must also take into consideration the different causes and forms of child labor in coffee and address each one appropriately.

We hope to do this in our January and February issues and ask that all of you become part of the solution.

Jane McCabe
Editor & Co-Publisher


Tea & Coffee - January/February 2002

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