Coffee known to have highly unethical industry


Coffee, although enjoyed worldwide, is known to have an highly unethical industry. This is because the cost of producing a single coffee bean is higher than the price it sells.

Jonathan Robinson, the founder of Bean There, a Direct Fair Trade coffee company in Johannesburg, said his journey in the coffee business started in Ethiopia. At the time, he had no idea that the country would offer him one of his greatest coffee experiences.

Today he imports the top two percent of high-quality coffee from small-scale farms across Africa, including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi, DRC and Rwanda.

“When running a business, you are trying to make the most profit. Often, you do that at the expense of the planet and people,” Robinson said.

This has been evident even in the coffee industry.

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Why the coffee trade is unethical

According to an article by Silver Chef, what makes the coffee trade unethical is that most of the trade is controlled by MNCs (Multinational Corporations) who need to be in touch with the realities of the farmers.

While coffee businesses can make a good profit from good coffee, the farmers are usually making a loss. These conditions lead to developing countries suffering the most. According to a report done in 2017 by SCIP (The Strategic Climate Institutions Programme), over 15 million people in Ethiopia are reliant on the coffee industry for income.

The system takes advantage of families desperate for even the smallest income to make ends meet and the Fair Trade certification came into the picture to try to help address these issues that affect more than just the coffee industry.

Robinson said: “Fair Trade was put in place to ensure that even if the market fluctuates, if you are committed to Fair Trade, you have to pay above a minimum price set by an international body.”

One of the issues with Fair Trade is that the certification side of it is quite expensive, which can dissuade people from getting involved.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because what makes Fair Trade strong is that it is certified,” said Robinson.

Issue with most green labels

“An issue with most of these green labels is we don’t know who’s checking. If someone says their product is vegan or their coffee is Fair Trade, how do we know that the person is not just talking or referring to a small part of their business that conforms to that label?

“The problem in the world at the moment is there is so much greenwashing.”

Ethiopia is the biggest exporter of coffee on the African continent. They also consume 50% of their coffee, meaning they drink half of their production.

Some believe this beverage was enjoyed in Ethiopia long before coffee was grown and enjoyed in other parts of the world, such as Brazil and Italy.

Robinson described the well-known Ethiopian coffee ceremony, saying: “In every little village in Ethiopia, there are just hundreds of little coffee shops where people sit on little stools roasting, some grinding, others pouring.”

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