SEATTLE – Millions of people worldwide begin, interrupt, or end their day with a cup of coffee. This widely traded commodity has become a staple in Western society and supports more than 25 million farming families. However, as large corporate distributors such as Starbucks, Folgers, and Nestle have begun to dominate the coffee trade, people have started to notice the discrepancies between the high retail values of fine coffees and the low wages of farmers.
In 2007 and 2008, globally aware advocates began to pressure these large corporate distributers to improve the conditions of their coffee farmers. In 2007, farmers were lucky to make 20 to 50 cents profit per pound of coffee, leaving most food insecure and far below the poverty line. However, as more of the public became aware of this issue, companies were forced to improve conditions for coffee farmers.
The Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks was a pioneer of this movement. Beginning their fair-trade project in 2000, they were the first major coffee distributor to ensure ethically sourced coffee. Their ultimate goal is to ethically source 100% of their coffee by the rapidly approaching deadline of 2015. As of 2012, 93% of their coffee was ethically sourced, putting them well on track for this goal.
Following Starbucks’s sustainable model, Nescafe promised to avoid commercial farms and coffee contracts, both of which diminish the livelihood of individual coffee farms. Nescafe also promises agricultural training and education to its sourcing farms in an effort to increase sustainability and farm efficiency, allowing the farmers to harness a greater portion of the coffee’s retail value.
The power of advocacy also eventually reached Folgers, who had remained resistant to any ethical sourcing promises until 2012, when pressure from customers and competitors led to the creation of an ethical sourcing strategy.
As poverty among the coffee farming community became more widely known, several organizations began providing credit to the farmers so they can improve their farming strategies and increase income. One such organization is a nonprofit called Root Capital, which has loaned over 500 million dollars to farmers since its creation. These loans have markedly improved farmers’ incomes.
These changes show the potential for informed advocacy, as awareness of an issue led to pressure for the large corporations to make positive changes for the global community. This insistence on change positively impacted the lives of the farmers, who now possess a higher income and greater opportunity for sustainable development.
– Melanie Mazza