Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Truth About Your Coffee

The Channel 4 Dispatches 'exposé' of child labour practices in the Guatemalan coffee industry was so riddled with misconceptions and misconstructions as to nullify any point it was trying to make. 

Crucially it failed to make the basic yet important distinction  that coffee picking is not a year-round activity.

And it didn't have the courage to reach any useful conclusion, beyond the fact that two major consumer brands (Starbucks and Nespresso) should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

In fact it ultimately delegated the call to action to a local activist, who advised British consumers to 'fight' and to carry on drinking Guatemalan coffee, 'the best in the world'. Er...

In practice this sort of programme — at times resembling a bad parody of investigative journalism (Inappropriately-dressed Londoner in thick glasses says 'crikey' when attacked by buzzy things)  serves to do more harm to the people at the bottom of the chain, than castigate those at the top.

From here it looks like an argument between two hypocritical, first world positions that tend to use people in the third world altogether self-servingly.
It made corporate ethical commitments and world-level legal protections appear as if they exist primarily to sanitise the contact end consumers have with the realities of food production outside their bubble.

The most intelligent, compassionate thing said in the programme was sent in by George Clooney.

It's unlikely that a machine will ever be invented to strip the berries from loaded coffee bushes. It remains an intensive, manual, 'just in time' task and the income of families in these poor, agrarian economies depends on deploying every available pair of hands. Prohibiting the use of children during these seasonal rushes could possibly have an immediate impoverishing effect.

One can rue the fact that Guatemala is under-developed and that large parts of it depend on what can only be described as a peasant economy. And there are ways to change this. But creating moral uncertainty amongst end consumers of 'feel good' products like coffee or chocolate is probably not the best of them.

No comments: