The specialty coffee industry has earned a sterling reputation for social inclusion through more than two decades of relentless innovation to develop strategies for meaningful, transparent and mutually beneficial engagement with smallholder growers. The smallholder farmers who have helped to create, implement, refine and improve those strategies over the past 25 years are certainly worthy of the industry’s attention. They produce most of the world’s coffee and are structurally disadvantaged in a global marketplace that rewards efficiency and scale.
But the tens of millions of people who work as wage-earners on coffee farms around the world each year represent the most vulnerable actors in specialty coffee supply chains, and they have mostly existed outside the scope of those efforts. Today, intentional engagement with farmworkers and issues of farm labor in the coffee sector represents a new frontier in sustainable sourcing, and presents extraordinary opportunities for specialty coffee.
These are opportunities to mitigate brand risk in a media environment that loves scandal, and to mitigate legal risk in a regulatory environment that is cracking down on the worst forms of labor abuse; opportunities to secure supply and to identify hidden sources of value in a market environment characterized by intense competition; and, ultimately, opportunities to renew the specialty coffee brand by including tens of millions of people on whom the specialty enterprise depends in the benefits it creates.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), through its Sustainability Council, has been working over the past year to help its members seize those opportunities.
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