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International Labor Organization (ILO): what are the challenges for decent work in Brazil, Colombia and Uganda

The online meeting has been jointly organized by the ILO's Vision Zero Fund and the "Supply Chains for a Sustainable Future of Work" project, implemented by the ILO Sectoral Policies Department

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MILANO – In a webinar, the International Labor Organization (ILO) gathered experts from Colombia, Uganda and Brazil around the theme “Promoting decent work in the coffee supply chain: Good practices, opportunities and challenges “. The online meeting was jointly organized by the ILO’s Vision Zero Fund and the “Supply Chains for a Sustainable Future of Work” project, implemented by the ILO Sectoral Policies Department.

The speakers dived into the fundamental principles and rights at work that serve as the foundation for sustainable economic growth in the coffee sector.

ILO’s webinar speakers:

Erika Almario Alvarado, Technical Secretary of the coffee chain, Government of the Huila, Colombia. Douglas Opio, Executive Director, Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE), Uganda. Laissa Pollyana do Carmo, Advisor to the Agrarian Policy Secretariat, National Confederation of Rural Workers and Family Farmers (CONTAG), Brazil.

Each producing country has different characteristics. Can you share the three main characteristics of the supply chain in your target country?

Erika Almario Alvarado spoke from Colombia: “The diversity of the actors (mainly small producers). 73% of productive areas are cultivated with coffee. We have four links: production, transformation, trading and export. An other characteristic is the high quality of colombian coffee: we’re known as washed Arabica producer. Huilla has topography, ideal climatic conditions and the 95% of coffee families carries out their activities in areas that are smaller then 5 hectares.

Here the importance of Huila: for 13 years it has been the number one for quality and volumes, rappresenting the 20% of the national production. Small growers are 85.929 for 147-969 hectares. Finally, the thid characteristic is the social-economic impact of coffee business.”

Douglas Opio, from Uganda: “The situation in Uganda is not so different: the coffee sector is dominated by small producers. And many of them have a few hectares: many of the areas are focused on Robusta, that is the principal variety coltivated, above all because of the low altitudes. But there’s also Arabica, that grows in some areas. The beans are sold green mainly for export, instead local consumption is very low – infact, we’re basically a tea country -.”

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Pollyana Laissa on the Brazilian market: “Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world (52.8 milion bags in 2022). It’s also the biggest exporter worldwide in 121 countries, (35 milion bags in 2022). United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Japan: they are bigger consumers of exported coffee from Brazil.

Minas Gerais is the largest coffee producer in Brazil, and it’s responsible for the production of 23 million bags in 2022.

All this coffee is grown in more than 264 thousand properties rural areas (small, medium and large). 91, 883 workers are registered (eSocial – December 2023).

About the dynamics of coffee production chain in Brazil: coffee farms> cooperatives/warehouses> export> tradings> importers> industries> supermarkets> consumers.

And here the main challenges for Brazilian coffee. Reduce informality: we have approximately 58% workers in Minas Gerais without a formal contract (Continuos PNAD 2022). Eradicate Slave Labor and Child Labor: more than 1000 workers were rescued from foced labor, and more then 100 children and adolescents found in irregular work situations from 2017 to 2023. “

The second question is about challenges of coffee supply chain has to face in each country. Two key issues: informality, child and forced labor, related to migration and women. What are the new trends regarding this topics? What is currently happening in Brazil, Colombia and Uganda?

Erika Almario Alvarado for Colombia:
“Build the path towards labor formalization (improve the working conditions of workers in the coffee supply chain). Workers are the ones who make the magic. All these families love and invest in the supply chain and this is the reason for the uniqueness of the flavours of our coffees. We have created a model that can be replicated outside Huilla. The 85% of coffee is grown in an informal economy. The pandemic in Colombia has pushed child labour further.

Our focus on migration: we have 900.000 (on 2,5 milions of jobs) pickers who migrate and are trained to pick coffee, but they fall into the 85% of informal work. More then 90% of the workers do not contribute to the social security system, while 46% do not know how to write or read or have not completed their schooling. This results, in the event of any unforeseen event, in the capital of Huilla’s entire supplychain being put at risk: we therefore decided to build a way to fill this workforce gap.”

Douglas Opio, the employer’s prospective.
“The issue is getting people with the right talent and skills in coffee farming, that is not at the moment attractive to young people. One third of our export is from coffee, so the major challenge is to get more work force.

The second aspect is the domestic consumption, that has been left behind and we have to catch up, because it is still low. Another issue from the employer’s point of view is the productivity: we have the majority of small holders farmers and that does not allow us to obtain the necessary volume with the right consistency. “

Pollyana Laissa about Brazil:
“Migration of workers from the State of Bahia and the North of Minas Girais to the South of Minas Gerais, often means that families are moving where there’s no services, education, schools. Women have many difficulties to find jobs: that causes social vulnerability of workers at departure and arrival location.

When we talk about women: of the 91.883 workers in the coffee production chain, only 15,189 are women (16%).
We try to give them opportunity and it starting now in the harvest of 2024.”

Last topic: the initiatives that have been promoted to meet these challenges

Erika Almario Alvarado in Colombia:” Our project is the perfect blend of different ingredients with the perfect timing. The first ingredient of this path is the articulation: we have an indicator that allows all workers to work with effective social dialague.

We succeded in the formation of the regional committee of the coffee chain in the department of Huila through tripartite social dialogue with representation of the productive sectors, the government and representatives of the workers We’ve invited by ILO to the decisional table and we get there in order to have a winning opportunity.

We adopted this method for productivity and decent work. We wanted to be able to articulate with stakeholders, private and public institution, and that’s why we created the Comitè Regionale de la cadena de cafè in Departimento di Huila.

We are looking to the promotion of decent work in a perceptional view, with a dedicated team. We shared all this points with the stakeholders to get more results: every link is empowerment. We will continue to work with trainers program for each stakeholder, institutions to underline the importance of those topics.

And we want to extend the project to the workers comunity. We had the goal of 1000 people involved, but we have overcome our expectations, leading an emulation effect in other departments: today we have more than 200 grower certificated, in 7 departments and 20 municipalities.

Pollyana Laissa in Brazil:
” An agreement (The Pact for the adoption of good labor practices and guarantee of decent work in coffee production in Brazil) was signed for the adoption of good labour practices and the guarantee of fair labour in coffee production in Brazil.

The partecipants: Ministry of Labor and employment, Ministry of devolepment and social assistent, family and combating hunger, National Confederation of agricultural workers and family farmers – CONTAG, National Cofederation of rural saluried workers – CONTAR, Confederation of agriculture and livestock of Brazil – CNA, Public Ministry of Labor – MPT and International Labor Organization – ILO.

Goals: cooperation between private and public entities to facilitate actions aimed at improving working conditions in coffee farming in Brazil, focusing on formalizing labor retions and guaranteeing decent work. Constitution of a Permanent Tripartite Dialogue Table for Coffee Production. Promotion of collective negotiation and board and inclusive social dialogue.

Guidance for workers and empoyers on the importance of respecting and valuing union activities. Promoting responsible business conduct and decent work. Eradication of child labor and work similar to slavery. Respect the guidelines of the sustainable work programs.

Other good practices: implementing our voices, with a pilot complaint mechanism for workers in the Brazilian coffee production chain. Created by the public survey Global fund to eradicate modern slavery, the mechanism has technical support from CONTAR to provide assistance to workers, finding a fair solutions through social dialvogue. Collective negotation in coffee sector.

Douglas Opio in Uganda:” First thing: ILO is very supportive and we created a good tripartenes arrangement, with a busy agenda with a focus on the training of employers that at the same time ensures the elimination of child labour. We are trying to document what good practices are and share them with a wider public.

We have grouped small producers into cooperatives to lower expenses and improve conditions for everyone. Often there are no smartphones and no connection, and we are now developing a more advanced technological network.
For the gender issue we are working to move women to more lucrative areas for better professions in the supply chain.”

Do certifications help growers?

Douglas Opio: “Certifications do not give much value to farmers. And about the Eudr diligence: if companies move in this direction they will have a better place in the market, but someone has to check that standards are really being met.”

Erika Almario Alvarado: “We have some problems: the supply chain has to deal with issues that certification does not take into account, as well as workers’ rights. We need to establish more direct dialogue, to give farmers easier access, using a more understandable language.”

Final question, the fundamental righ to a safe and healthy working environment

Erika Almario Alvarado: “We have companies that have been working in the certification of coffee farms and in trading different value, ricognizing the skills of workers themselves. Now growers are improving their lively conditions.

Douglas Opio:” In Uganda safety and health are important, and they’re linked to an garantueed income. Level of absenteism is reduced, own costs go down. Generally increases the level of the productivity of companies and help also the country in the process.”

Pollyana Laissa: “We’re an organization that rapresents workers, we control the conditions of all workers, many of them have been rescued from slavery situations.”

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