The veil of Logistics in the Coffee Supply Chain

The veil of Logistics in the Coffee Supply Chain

August 24, 2017

Labor Issues on the Logistics Side

Thus far, in the previous two posts this series, we have focused largely on the issues that farmworkers in the coffee industry face. This is because, for one, our venture deals personally with farmers and farmworkers — because we are not a brick-and-mortar coffee shop, we do not face many of the logistical issues surrounding coffee shops. However, in this edition of What’s in your Cup, we’re going to shift focus and speak to some of those issues.

Starbucks workers protesting outside of a store in Chile (1)

Let’s begin by looking at the supply chain of contemporary coffee companies. By starting here, we can identify areas of contention within each facet of this global industry. We start, of course, with the farms; farmers grow and harvest the coffee beans. From here, buyers go to individual farms or local cooperatives to buy beans; price of bean varies between farms and countries. After this, processors in these countries sort through beans, ranking high and low quality beans (2). From here, exporters “buy processed beans and sell them to multiple brokers around the world,” who, in turn, sell beans to importers (3). Importers sell beans to distributors in specific countries, and distributors sell beans to retailers (anything from a cafe to a restaurant to a grocery store). This is the common method of distribution for coffee across the world — in some ways, this is necessary to supply the massive coffee industry.

But, just as the massive chain binds different industries together, it also binds the fates of workers together in interesting ways. Take, for instance, the recent dockworkers strike in Cameroon; blocking the main dock in Cameroon incidentally stopped the movement of coffee from the region. 12 tons of coffee were stopped from shipping in May due to this strike (4).

Cameroonian dock workers on strike (4)

Traditional logistics plays an essential role in the movement of coffee — the various stages in the coffee movement cannot be done without the logistics industry. But these logistics workers are more-or-less excluded from conversations about coffee, both positive and negative. Perhaps that is due to the logistics industry’s incidental placement with regards to the coffee industry — all industries rely on logistics, so coffee is not unique in that regard.

Nonetheless, coffee enthusiasts who are interested in ethical purchasing of coffee should educate themselves on the constant struggles of logistics workers.

Companies rely on this ignorance to keep things flowing as-usual; because logistics workers are so overlooked in the contemporary imagination, they are treated incredibly poorly by their respective employers.

This week alone there are four strikes being reported on worldwide — one in Jakarta (5), one in Dublin (6), one in Spain (7), and one in San Francisco (8). Celebrating the courage of these workers for standing against unjust treatment is essential for us to enjoy coffee in good conscience — logistics workers are essential to literally every stage of the chain of movement within the coffee industry that was outlined earlier.

To reach our doorsteps, countless people move coffee on our behalf; the logistics industry cannot be ignored or underestimated in terms of its importance.

While many who look to ethically sourced coffee begin and end with the “fair trade,” or “direct trade,” labels, it is time to move beyond those specific boundaries and investigate the multitude of injustices that happen while our coffee is being shipped. 









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