Enjoying cup of Joe may be at expense of poor workers
By Karen Bong
Twenty thousand pounds of coffee. Frank Miller, general manager of food services at Western, claims that is how much of the hot, black beverage the caffeinated people on campus sip, gulp and guzzle each year.
The massive number of students who consume coffee are precisely those Queen's University's Ontario Public Interest Research Group is looking to educate. The exploitation of coffee growers in developing countries and the shipping of coffee profits away from the growers is what Marney McDiarmid, coordinator of OPIRG, is hoping to change.
"Coffee is a dirty product," McDiarmid said. "It's a cash crop. It's harvested in a Third World country and bought for a low price. It's then brought to a developed country for processing, making the buyer the one who receives the profits."
McDiarmid said coffee workers work long for low pay and face various environmental hazards such as pesticide use. The actual growers of the world's best coffee never see the huge profits their beans fetch, she added.
"Organizations like the International Monetary Fund encourage developing countries to produce cash crops so they can pay off their global debt. Most of the food grown is exported to the rest of the world for very little money," McDiarmid said.
"Companies and dealers around the world are the ones who collect the profit of these crops. Effectively, they're keeping the poor countries poor."
One company which tries to trade fairly with coffee growers is Bridgehead Coffee, McDiarmid said. Giving growers a fair share of the coffee market price, ensuring good labour conditions for coffee workers and seeing that workers receive some profits from their crops are all goals Bridgehead attempts to achieve. The disadvantage of such goals, however, is fair trade coffee is more expensive, McDiarmid said.
"One thing we try and promote here is global awareness, local action," she said. "This is an education campaign. We want to see if people are willing to pay a few extra cents for their cup of coffee if it means a better working life for someone else."
OPIRG met with various cafés in Kingston last year to inform them about the availability of fair trade coffee, she said. After raising awareness of the working conditions of coffee workers and the benefits of fair trade coffee suppliers like Bridgehead Coffee, some of the cafés started offering fair trade coffee on their menus.
"We'd like consumers to be aware of their own power," McDiarmid said.
As for coffee consumers here at Western, Miller said campus coffee is supplied by Tim Hortons Donuts.
Patti Jameson, director of corporate communications for Tim Hortons, said the company works to be a responsible corporate citizen, making fair trade in all their goods part and parcel of that commitment.
"We deal with the most reputable coffee brokers in the world. We don't decide the price for the green beans we buy; the price is set on the world market."