Have you thought about where our coffee comes from? How much water it takes to produce? Whose labor provides it for us? In our journey toward global citizenship and caring for our earth home, these are important things to know.
Many robusta coffee beans are grown in the Ivory Coast, often on the same plantations as cacao beans. The taller cacao plants shade the coffee bushes. The labor on most of these farms comes from child slaves. We've all heard about fair trade, and have seen expensive brands of coffee and chocolate bearing a fair-trade label. We also search for bargains and tend to forget the production chain when our own budgets are pressuring us.
There are several ways to be more responsible in our consumer habits. Gary Goldstein of the National Coffee Association (representing Folgers, Maxwell House, and Nescafe) said, "This industry isn't responsible for what happens in a foreign country." Perhaps a letter to the NCA explaining why we choose not to buy those brands would be helpful. How about letters to CEOs, like Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft (parent company of Maxwell House), who makes $27 million a year? Let them know that we're aware of the conditions that produce their brands and it's not OK with us. We're aware that farmers used to receive 30% of the retail price of coffee, and now they get about half that much. Our prices go up while the amount paid to producers goes down, forcing farmers to choose slave labor, whether they want to be more ethical or not. How about the CEO of Starbucks, who makes more that $30 million a year? Starbucks has made some headway into the issue of fair trade, but I'm still wary about buying their beans.
I'm a supporter of San Francisco Bay coffee, sold inexpensively at Costco, and making an effort to be socially and ecologically responsible. The first thing you see on their website home page is a story about how coffee can save endangered bats. This company is involved in the coffee process from planting to brewing, and they still manage to sell an affordable product. They even make compostable K-cups. Take two minutes to learn about their involvement with Rwandan coffee farmers here.
We have a responsibility to be global citizens. That sounds complicated, but it doesn't have to be. We just need to read a little more about the companies we support with our dollars. We can do it in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee each day.