Coffee Workers and Fair Wages

Certain groups of people are more likely to be farmworkers than others—people who are poor with little formal education tend to be overrepresented among the ranks of coffee farmworkers. And sadly, certain groups of people tend systematically to be more vulnerable to labor abuses in agriculture than others.

They include women, children, descendants of slaves, indigenous people, and migrant laborers. Overlapping membership in these groups can make some coffee farmworkers especially vulnerable.

Most coffee pickers are paid a “piece rate”—a set amount per unit harvested. In many cases, daily earnings may fall short of national minimum wage protections and can lead to other forms of labor violations, such as excessive working hours without adequate breaks, overtime pay, and violations of health and safety regulations.

Guatemalan Coffee Worker

Guatemalan Coffee Worker

The average coffee picker harvests 100-200 pounds of finished coffee per day. Harvesting coffee is slow and often times challenging work, requiring manual transport of heavy loads on steep and dangerous terrain, long working hours, and exposure to harsh weather. The minimum low-skilled wage in Guatemala is already over 36% less than what is considered a sustainable “living wage” for a family there, and despite that disparity one study revealed that over 90% of day laborers received less than the minimum wage and over 97% of women workers received less than the minimum wage.

Coffee Worker’s Family

Coffee Worker’s Family

Transparency and equity in the coffee supply chain are critical factors in ensuring that coffee farming remains a sustainable industry and that the people who work so hard to bring this beautiful crop to consumers are able to support and feed their families. Coffee importers and roasters must support producers who pay fair wages by themselves paying “fair trade” prices for coffees from responsible producers. Coffee consumers should be aware of the issues and support coffeeshops and coffee retailers who practice Fair Trade in their business dealings. We all play an important role - and we all should do the right thing in supporting people and families. The sustainability of our industry depends on us.

*Farmworkers and Coffee: The Case for Inclusion (An SCA White Paper)