Protecting Coffee Farmers Around the World

Protecting Coffee Farmers Around the World

With the plight of coffee workers being highlighted through International Coffee Day and the International Labour Organization’s #CoffeePeople campaign, Marijana Zivkovic Mtegha looks what’s being done to protect them

Coffee! Glorious coffee!

Many of us can’t imagine life without it – the pleasure it brings first thing in the morning, the comfort it provides, the energy boost it drives!

Study after study speaks of potential health benefits associated with drinking coffee, including protection against Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, liver cancer, and even improved cardiovascular health.

The people behind the coffee

But we don’t hear much about the people who produce this beloved drink – and specifically we don’t know about the adverse impacts of farming coffee to their health. And if we did, would we and could we do anything about it?

Sunday 1 October was International Coffee Day, and I marked it as usual with a cup of my favourite fair-trade brand and a selfie I took in support of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Vision Zero Fund (VZF) campaign #CoffeePeople that launched the same day.

The campaign stresses that coffee workers suffer largely preventable work-related injuries and diseases every year. The agri-food sector remains one of the most hazardous sectors to work in, in terms of fatalities, injuries and work-related ill health. The ILO estimates at least 170,000 agricultural workers are killed globally each year. Millions more are seriously injured in workplace accidents involving machinery or are poisoned by pesticides and other agrochemicals.

To solve this problem, the campaign calls for a collective action from a wide range of stakeholders including workers, employers, governments, and many more.

The campaign resonated with me, contrasting this amazing experience of daily enjoyment of coffee with stark facts of the realities of poor safety and health of the people who work in the coffee supply chain, especially those who farm it.

READ: NSC Builds on Groundbreaking Effort to Transform Workplace Safety for Years to Come with New Employer Pledge

Who are these people? Where do they work? According to the ILO, coffee is an important source of income for 20 to 25 million families worldwide. Coffee is produced in more than 50 developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and women make up an estimated 70 per cent of the workforce in the sector.

Exposure to risks

Unfortunately, many farmers do not always understand the risks to which they are exposed as part of their work, which include agrochemical exposure, physically taxing coffee cultivation techniques, harsh weather conditions and a lack of access to sanitary facilities and hygienic practices.

The establishment and implementation of adequate OSH management systems that guarantee workers’ access to information, training, preventive and control measures and health services, can mitigate these risks, according to the ILO’s VZF.

Through this campaign, the ILO’s Vision Zero Fund aims to raise awareness of the issue with different stakeholders globally and promote improved OSH conditions across the coffee supply chain.

IOSH and the ILO forged a partnership back in October 2021, committing to work together to improve OSH outcomes worldwide. We welcomed this opportunity to support the Vision Zero Fund’s #CoffeePeople campaign and amplify the ILO’s call on the importance of promoting the right to a safe and healthy working environment in the coffee supply chain.

Safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work and sustainable development and oblige all ILO Member Countries and relevant stakeholders to ensure they deliver on their commitments arising from the Fundamental Conventions on occupational safety and health.

We particularly support the collective action approach in creating a safe and healthy working environment, including all constituents of the ILO’s tripartite system: governments, employers and workers, other stakeholders such as investors and international financial institutions and, in particular, OSH professionals as specialists in managing the workplace risks and driving a safety culture at all levels of organisations.

Sustainable coffee

Sustainable coffee is not just environmentally friendly coffee. Sustainable coffee is coffee produced in a safe and healthy working environment, where people feel supported and looked after and where, at the end of the working day, they return home healthy and able to continue to provide for their families and contribute to the society – which we define as social sustainability. And it’s clear why the ILO named OSH as a foundation of sustainable development.

With our 50,000-plus members in 130 countries around the world dedicated to a safe and healthy world of work, IOSH will continue to promote good safety and health practice in all workplace settings.

As part of the campaign, the Vison Zero Fund developed a Collective Action Kit, emphasising the importance of collective action of all relevant stakeholders. It offers solutions to relevant stakeholders to identify specific actions that they can take to make sure that all coffee workers around the world work in safe and healthy conditions.

As you enjoy your daily coffee, please consider the role you and your organisation can play in further supporting the #CoffeePeople. I would like to hear from you if you have collaboration and partnership ideas that would amplify our individual impact.