Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

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Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

We’re examining how centuries-old traumas continue to impact these families lives.
Many need coffee. Without it, we couldn’t wake up, handle lunchtime slumps, or socialize. It produces sensory moments and builds connections. Our enthusiasm for coffee is expanding by the minute, as cafés, roasters, bottled brands, and overall consumption reveal—four hundred billion cups of coffee annually by 64% of Americans.
Two-thirds of Americans drink coffee daily, yet many don’t know how it’s made.

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

Coffee has a terrible past and a troubling present, despite being a bright spot. For generations, coffee production has exploited people of colour. University of Utah lecturer Christine A. Jones remarked, “I conceive coffee as a luxury commodity that depicts the slave trade; human labour to exploit human luxury.”

Past bitter history

Atlantic slavery shaped today’s coffee industry, over 400 years, 11 million Africans were abducted and sold as enslaved people for the coffee trade, which drove European colonial prosperity.

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave
Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave


Ancient Ethiopian woodlands grow wild coffee. Through Al Mokha, it reached southern Arabia. Historians say enslaved people sent coffee cherry seeds as ship nourishment—Yemen’s first commercially produced coffee.

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

By the 15th century, Venetian merchants sipped it in coffeehouses. It sparked global demand. Arabia banned seed trade and boiled beans before shipment to making them infertile. The Dutch smuggled viable coffee seeds from Yemen to Indonesian territories in the late 1600s, ending the Ottoman coffee monopoly. The Dutch used stolen land and indentured Javanese labour to plant coffee in Java. Human mortality was a production expense. The Dutch starved whole villages.

Understanding coffee’s past and today requires recognizing slavery and colonialism.

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

European nations realized coffee’s profit potential in the mid-1700s. Dutch Indonesia couldn’t meet demand, so British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonists joined. Global powers carried West African flora and enslaved people to the Caribbean and the Americas. By 1788, Haiti’s African labourers supplied half the world’s coffee. Torture, starvation, overwork, and filth were widespread. To grow the grain cheaply, they sacrificed lives.

Portuguese-colonized Brazil’s coffee production grew. In the early 1800s, Brazil produced 30% of the world’s coffee with 2 million enslaved people. The average life expectancy of a coffee enslaved person in Brazil was only seven years, perhaps because plantation owners believed importing newly enslaved people after they died from overwork was cheaper than keeping them alive. The U.S. abolished human ownership in 1888.

Spanish-colonized Central America grew coffee on stolen land and forced labour. Mayans and other locals were “semi-slaves” with no human chattel legal structure. As these communities inhabited fertile coffee-growing areas, they were forcibly evicted and forced to cultivate their ancestral country. If someone sought to be independent, the military was ruthless.

Europe’s coffee-houses changed coffee’s history. Cafés became commercial hubs as slavery spurred coffee production in the 17th and 19th centuries. Mark Ellis claims merchants drank coffee and discussed “acquiring products or capital.” Credit and financial transactions use black bodies. People dealt with plant deals among luxurious chairs and soothing aromas.

Desert agriculture

Six hundred years later, the system hasn’t changed much. Colour people provide labour and coffee beans for little-to-no pay. The coffee industry’s haves and have-nots are racially and ethnically divided.

In Africa, South America, and Asia, 125 million people drink coffee. 63% live in poverty, and 71% for small-scale coffee farmers. Black, Indigenous, and POC dominate. They work from sunrise to dusk to please sophisticated palates. Picking ripe cherries and hauling 132-pound sacks down hillsides are done by hand. Shade-grown coffee is the best agricultural land for biodiversity because it sequesters carbon and creates humus. They keep detailed records to ensure transparency.

Farmers are paid peanuts despite all they provide for their communities, ecosystems, and customers. They don’t earn enough to cover their costs or feed their families.

Coffee costs are decreasing. Fifty years ago, farmers were more prosperous. Coffee prices in 2020 are four times lower than in the early 1980s, like cutting the minimum wage in half. Long-term farmers need $2.30 per pound to break even and $1.87 to $3.50 to live. Families can’t afford food, medical care, or essential expenses. Due to a lack of funding, many students drop out of school, and families lose their farms and livelihoods. So continues the age-old practice of starving individuals to limit their advancement.

More extensive plantations exhibit racial stratification. Europeans own most farms, but indigenous and ethnic minorities work them. The farmer’s workers received peanut pay, which is e much below the minimum wage—sleeping the 60-deep in tight, unclean quarters during harvest. Use the fields and rivers for bathrooms and showers. No protection against venomous snakes or pesticides.

Enslaved people work off debts. Permanent plantation labourers are underpaid and cut off from local markets. “Employees” must buy essentials from an estate store, increasing their debt. Payment systems are often rigged with manipulated scales or misplaced coffee. Workers must stay until they can repay loans, perpetuating indentured slavery.

Coffee a bitter trade of modern slave

Modern slavery is rampant in the sector, notably in Brazil. Certifications haven’t helped. Since 2014, labour officials have undertaken 25 investigations into forced labour and other human rights violations in Brazil’s coffee sector, but experts think the reports are insufficient.

Brazil’s coffee industry employs the most children. In Brazil, child labour exploitation rates are 37% higher than in other coffee-producing countries, with 6-year-olds working 10-hour days with health and safety dangers. Notably, enslavement fostered Brazil’s coffee domination. Brazil is the world’s most significant coffee producer, generating plantation owners and firms big profits. As in the 1800s, these economic victors are darker-skinned.

Coffee-makers haven’t changed for centuries. We analyse how rich North American and European firms exploit labour. 

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