Global Coffee Report looks at how the living wage can guide discussions on price and the future sustainability of coffee.
When low international coffee prices are discussed, it is often in comparison to the cost of production. However, there is a higher benchmark that needs to be addressed – the living income of coffee producers or living wage of their workers.
Michelle Bhattacharyya, Co-executive Director of Living Wage On-Up and former Coordinator of the Global Living Wage Coalition, identifies a living wage as the dollar amount a person needs to earn to afford a basic but decent life for themselves and their family, which differs from country to country.
“That’s meeting just enough nutrition, having a house over your head, making sure your kids can go to school, and having basic healthcare – very basic things,” Bhattacharyya tells Global Coffee Report.
“But right now, the incomes for coffee farmers are so low that whenever prices drop, they are suddenly not able to eat as much. You’re going to have a more sustainable business if we make the fluctuations in prices easier for farmers to absorb.”
Bhattacharyya says not being able to achieve a living wage in coffee farming is contributing to many of the challenges the coffee industry is currently facing.
“There’s a lot of things that we look at as major human rights issues. Not earning a living wage is a big motivator for child labour, because families are having trouble feeding their kids, so they send them off to work,” she says. “Then there’s health considerations, like access to water or basic sanitation.
“In coffee specifically, there’s a lot of concern about younger generations not taking up farming after their parents. The question is, if you knew you couldn’t support yourself and your family off of farming, is that a career field you want to go into? If you’re invested in making an industry sustainable – keeping supply chains and production running for commodities like coffee – then you need to think: ‘Are we creating a situation where it’s even possible for people to live a decent life on what they’re earning?’
“Living wages are a matter of human rights and incumbent on everyone, but it’s also one of sustaining business and making sure that it’s able to continue on in a way that helps everybody.”