IUF logo; clicking here returns you to the home page.
Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

International Coffee Code Must Bring Real Changes for Workers and Farmers

Posted to the IUF website 12-Sep-2004

Share this article.

The IUF, as the international trade union federation representing coffee workers along the production chain, has been actively involved in the negotiations leading to the "Common Code for the Coffee Community" launched in Hamburg on September 10. When fully implemented, the Code should cover some 80% of the global coffee market, from planting, harvesting and roasting to marketing.

The Code takes efforts to lift social and environmental standards beyond the fair trade niche and into mainstream marketing through the inclusion of four of the largest transnationals in the sector (Kraft, Nestlé, Sara Lee and Tchibo). As a result of the involvement of the IUF and its major African and Latin American affiliates in the sector, the Code not only calls for the explicit guarantee of the ILO's Core Conventions on freedom of association, child and bonded labour, and non-discrimination. It marks a significant advance on existing industry codes in stating that employers must assure proper occupational health and safety conditions for workers and guarantee equality of treatment for migrant and seasonal workers. The detailed and explicit environmental dimensions of the Code, if implemented, can contribute significantly towards ensuring sustainable production methods.

The IUF recognizes the many positive elements set out in the Code, but stresses that no code can substitute for strong, enforceable social and environmental legislation at every level, national and global. Voluntary initiatives, even multilateral, cannot substitute for binding agreements negotiated between workers and employers. And no system of independent auditing can substitute for the presence of strong, independent unions at the workplace whose very purpose is to monitor respect for the working conditions negotiated through the collective bargaining process.

The Coffee Code does include ambitious goals on ensuring compliance with the freedom of association and collective bargaining principles it contains. Through the "traffic light" system of monitoring compliance, the mere existence of trade unions which bargain with employers is sufficient to merit only a "yellow traffic light". Green is granted when "resources, information and institutional structures are available to improve representation of workers and farmers by their organization", and when "collective bargaining results are applied to all workers". At present there are far too many red and yellow lights in the coffee sector. Real progress in the living and working conditions of coffee workers and small farmers will be achieved when the traffic lights begin to significantly shift from yellow to green.

The IUF will therefore be investing its efforts in this area, says IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. Moreover, according to Oswald, the catastrophic fall in world coffee prices must be urgently addressed through coordinated efforts to manage global supply in ways which concretely benefit workers and small farmers.