Well before the global pandemic, I met “Elena”, a 10-year old girl picking premium coffee on a mountain slope in Guatemala. She worked full time and didn’t go to school, filling basket after basket beside her family. Because if she didn’t, they wouldn’t earn enough to make ends meet. It struck me then that this was her likely future. And the cycle would continue when her own children would one day join her in the field.
It wasn’t fair. And I became determined to find out how coffee travels from Elena’s hands to major coffee brands. The following pictures piece together the supply chain from plantations to the export warehouse of a major international company. It wasn’t possible to follow Elena’s beans exactly, but it reveals how child labour
is so easily hidden in our daily cup of coffee and many other products we consume every day.
Inside the coffee supply chain
“Elena”, 10, picks some of the ripe coffee at a plantation.
“Elena”, in the back of a truck with other coffee workers and harvested coffee fruit following a day of picking. The coffee is taken to a mill where it is weighed to determine what workers get payed.
Ripe coffee from surrounding plantations is then washed at a mill.
Washed coffee fruit is then laid out in the sun to dry.
Sun-dried coffee beans.
Dried coffee beans are then loaded on trucks and taken down the mountain.
Beans are delivered for temporary storage at an intermediary warehouse.
Coffee is then delivered to a large regional storage facility.
Inside the regional warehouse owned by a multinational coffee conglomerate. Can you spot Elena’s beans?
From the regional warehouse, beans are loaded on trailer trucks to be exported internationally.
How to end child labour in Canadian supply chains
Pressures to cut margins often move all the way back in the supply chain from retailer to farmers. The result is poor pay for coffee workers that perpetuates poverty widens inequities and forces parents to put their children to work. Cheap labour provided by children like Elena also exact a cost on their childhood, coming at the expense of their health, well-being and education.
Following the coffee supply chain in Guatemala revealed just how hard it is to trace coffee beans back to the girls and boys who pick them. The issue is complex, but there are solutions that work. To end child labour in a responsible and sustainable way, farmers, workers, businesses, governments and NGOs all need to work together. And Canadian consumers have a vital role to play too. Learn more and get involved