Ethics of coffee
The largest issue with coffee supply chains is the exploitation of farmers and workers, especially since coffee is generally grown in developing countries. Coffee is well known to have a history of using child slave labour and workers on less than minimum wage. For example, in 2018 a coffee plantation in Brazil used by Starbucks was found to be using slave labour (workers didn’t even have drinking water!) This process is incredibly difficult to track, especially as the coffee plantation mentioned held certifications for safe practices and sustainable farming.
What’s the alternative? Fairtrade Certified and Direct Trade coffee. Certifications are not always accurate, however, Fairtrade Certified coffee has strict regulations. Oxfam sells 100% organic Fairtrade Certified coffee from East Timor and Africa. Another option is to avoid multinational organisations like Nestle and opt for specialty coffee. Five Senses recommends opting for high-quality Arabica coffee, which is more likely to be grown ethically. For more information on purchasing ethical coffee and certifications, see The Guardian’s article here.
The environmental issues with coffee production
From looking at the supply chain of coffee beans, it’s clear that there is a long chain of machine work which requires energy, land, pesticides and extensive water usage. There’s also an issue with agriculture runoff. WWF recently pointed out that 37 of the 50 countries with high deforestation, also produced coffee.
What’s the alternative? Purchase organic coffee to avoid pesticides, herbicides and agriculture runoff. As we know, ethical does not mean organic. Deforestation and water usage is difficult to avoid as coffee trees need space and water. There are also some certifications such as Rainforest Alliance (this doesn’t mean it’s 100% eco). Also, ask your local barista about their coffee beans or go into the supermarket and pick up the packets – where do they come from and what certifications are there?
Don’t forget the packaging
Repeat after me – I will avoid coffee machines with pods and sachets (unless they are compostable). Coffee pods clog up landfill and possibly carcinogenic. It also contributes to our throwaway lifestyle.
What’s the alternative? Get yourself a stovetop machine and a simple milk frother (can do by hand). If you’re getting takeaway coffee, get yourself a KeepCup to take everywhere to avoid wasteful plastic-lined cups.