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Little evidence coffee companies' sustainability efforts have impact: Report

  • Maytaal Angel

    Reuters

London   /   Thu, January 14, 2021   /   11:30 am
Little evidence coffee companies' sustainability efforts have impact: Report A woman coffee farmer picks Gayo coffee beans on a coffee plantation in Central Aceh. (Shutterstock/MIB stockimages)

There is little evidence efforts by the world’s top coffee roasters and traders to prevent human rights and environmental abuses are having any impact, with most farmers operating at a loss and unable to produce sustainably, a major coffee report said on Thursday.

The Coffee Barometer, written by a group of global non-governmental organizations (NGOs), comes as top firms like Starbucks and JDE Peet’s face rising demands from consumers for ethically sourced products.

It also comes as the European Union is poised to propose legislation this year to prevent the import of commodities linked to deforestation and human rights abuses. The move follows years of failed voluntary efforts by companies to clean up their supply chains.

“While some companies have comprehensive (sustainability) policies in place, many large traders and roasters remain unclear about their commitments (and about) any progress on commitments. No one is doing enough,” said the report, which does not single out individual companies.

Read also: Agriculture exports grow as coffee, vegetables, fruits in demand

JDE Peet’s said it is aware of and concerned about the issues facing smallholder coffee farmers and has programs in place in 15 producing countries to address the most critical sustainability challenges.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The coffee sector is valued at US$200-250 billion a year at the retail level, according to the report, but producing countries receive less than 10 percent of that value when exporting beans, and farmers even less than that.

The report also estimates coffee is grown on roughly 12.5 million farms globally, about 95 percent of which are labor intensive smallholdings that usually employ an entire farming family as well as seasonal workers. Coffee, in other words, provides a livelihood for tens of millions of people worldwide.

Benchmark ICE arabica futures fell to almost 14-year lows in 2019 and remain below many small growers’ production costs.

Read also: Social movement helps coffee farmers in Papua's Dogiyai sell backstock

“Smallholder farmers (are) under constant pressure to cut costs, especially those related to labor and the environment,” said the report.

It warned that while to date, coffee has played a relatively small role in deforestation, this will not be the case going forward in the absence of sector reform. Already, Peru estimates 25 percent of deforestation in the country is linked to coffee production.

Deforestation is the second major cause of climate change after the burning of fossil fuels.