The cost of a cup of coffee
On our Learning Tours to El Salvador, we've spent a morning walking the mountainside with Fatima, an illiterate single mother of four young children. She lives in Las Americas, a village where coffee production is the main source of income for most of the people.
Our walk with Fatima is a morning stroll for us—during the coffee picking season, it is anything but that for her. She's up at the crack of dawn, packs a lunch of tortillas and rice, and goes to her assigned part of the plantation to begin picking. By law, the workers are signed on for 15-day periods, out of which they work 12 days (no work on Sundays—and the owner makes sure to include three). From November to as late as February, they rise early and pick all day. Only the ripe (red) beans are picked off each stem on a bush, so it's a tedious process.
How much do they earn for picking the second most-traded commodity in the world (after petroleum)? They're paid $3 to $5 per 100 pounds, which can take all day. (And lest we think “things are cheaper down there,” a chicken costs $7.00; a pound of beans $1.00.) How much can a coffee shop earn from 100 pounds of coffee? At 60 cups per pound and $3-$7 per cup...well, do the math.
When asked about the wages and the way the workers are treated, Fatima responded, “No, it's not fair,” with a look of disdain often seen on the faces of women around the world in similar situations. “I can hardly feed my children and keep them in school. But what choice do I have.”
That's what we at NCP call “the economics of desperation”—a job, but not a job with dignity or opportunity.
Why is it like this?
Fair Trade is a positive way forward in helping people in the Poor World have a bigger cut of the action for commodities like coffee or cocoa or clothing. Fair Trade provides a guaranteed base price for producers often above the market price for a commodity like coffee or cocoa. Plus, FT companies work with cooperatives, ensuring community-based decision-making and a level wage scale. Often these companies send some of their profits back to the communities to be used to build schools, etc.
We can also work to help people be successful in their own economies and communities, rather than dependent on international markets. A larger goal can be to reform the global economic system so that people are more important than profits or products.
New Community Project - there's a place for you
We believe the challenges facing this earth and its people can best be met and addressed by people of courage, conscience and commitment joining together within and between cultures to build a new community of respect for all life.