The bitter cost of ?fair trade? coffee

Monday, September 11, 2006

?No certifier is able to check that at no time are workers paid below minimum wage,? says Luuk Zonneveld, Managing Director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) in Bonn. ?This issue comes up everywhere. Poor people struggle to pay their workers fairly.?

The FT?s findings cast doubt on the certification process. ?The low pay issue wasn?t picked up in our audit because it wasn?t done at harvest season,? says Chris Wille, Chief of Sustainable Agriculture at Rainforest Alliance. However, Mr Wille says his organisation is aware of the problem and is developing a plan to tackle it.

Coronel Vasquez Bernardino, a gangly 25-year-old wearing a filthy Argentina national team football shirt and decrepit trainers, points to the wooden barn floor on which he and 17 other labourers have slept during the summer. Outside, there is one small tap from which water trickles constantly. The only toilet is a hole in the ground surrounded by flimsy walls of black sacking.

Mr Vasquez has come with friends from his village in a remote part of Cajamarca, a department in Peru?s northern highlands, to pick coffee in the Moyobamba region on the edge of the jungle. ?This is good work,? he mumbles awkwardly. ?We come here for the summer, when there?s no employment for agricultural labourers in the highlands.?

He and his co-workers work from 6am to 4.30pm, for which they are paid 10 soles a day (about $3) ? better than the eight soles a day some coffee farmers pay, he says. However, the amount is below the 11.20 soles a day that is the legal minimum he should receive ? even after a 30 per cent discount from the official rate of 16 soles, which pays for his accommodation and meals.

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Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)