According to a new study by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, the efforts of global coffee buyers are not sufficient at ensuring that coffee growers earn a liveable income. The study highlighted 10 of the largest coffee roasters and retailers, which include Nestle SA, JDE Peet’s NV, J.M. Smucker and Starbucks. 

In the study, the authors conduct an analysis of the companies’ sourcing practices and how they impact the income and wellbeing of coffee farmers and producers. It showed that these practices don’t have a viable way to raise most of them above the poverty line. 

The report goes on to say:

While all of the companies have established sustainability commitments or projects relevant to producers, none are able to guarantee that all viable producers in their supply chains earn a living income,” the study’s summary said. “All could do more within their sourcing practices to positively influence producer prosperity.

They concluded that. “All could do more within their sourcing practices to positively influence producer prosperity.”

One of the sourcing practices analysed is the use of certifications and verifications under the Voluntary Sustainability Standard (VSS), which are rules that people involved are required to abide by so that the products and services offered don’t hurt people or the environment. Coffee is one of the top commodities that employs these standards.

The study found that there is no evidence these programs are helping farmers or producers earn a liveable income, or an acceptable standard of living, which means that the claims of “100% responsible sourcing” does not benefit the coffee farmers and producers. In addition to the questionable benefits, farmers are required to pay a fee to certify companies.

Another section of the study is a comparison between current coffee incomes and estimates of living incomes of the ten largest producing nations — eight of them are earning an average income below the poverty line. 

The study summarised:

Brazil, which is the biggest coffee export and coffee grower, is the only one that has an average income above the estimates. Uganda, on the other hand, has the biggest gap. An average coffee producer earns $88 a year, but the estimated living income for the country is $2,000 to $6,000 a year.

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