Coffee News Club: Week of September 5th

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I’ll take my donut with sprinkles and a union pin. Plus, a study in Brazil finds living wage disparities between producers, and Fair Trade USA revamps its programs.

‘GCP Brazil Study Outlines Living Wage Disparities Among Growers’ – via Daily Coffee News

The international nonprofit Global Coffee Platform (GCP) announced the results of its living income research in Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, Brazil’s two main coffee-growing regions. The report found income disparities between large and smallholder producers—producers with larger farms were likelier to earn a living income.

Over the last few years, coffee actors across the industry have pushed to research, quantify, and implement living income systems for coffee producers. The International Coffee Organization launched a benchmarking study in early 2023, while several large coffee buyers have backed Fairtrade International’s “Living Income Reference Price,” which the organization calculates for various countries based on local living and production costs. These moves come as the coffee industry continues to grapple with the fact that, for many producers, coffee farming is financially unsustainable

For the report, GCP used the definition of living income provided by the Living Income Community of Practice, a platform focused on measuring and improving smallholder incomes: “The net annual income required for a household in a particular place to afford a decent standard of living for all members of that household.”

“The results of this study suggest that a share of interviewed growers, particularly those who fit in the family farming category, do not earn a living income,” the report concludes. “These smallholders strongly depend on earnings not related to the property, such as outside work or governmental aids, to complement the household income.”

Meanwhile, “growers with medium- and large-size plots of land … obtain good earnings from coffee.” The GCP notes that the results can’t be extrapolated to every coffee producer in Brazil but that “the findings show that once growers have access to an enabling environment (technical assistance, technology, credit, growers’ organization, logistics and market access) they are able to earn a living income.”

Read the full story here.

‘Dunkin’ Faces First Union Push in 12 Years’ – via HR Dive

Following the generally successful—if bitterly fought—unionization campaign at Starbucks, workers at other coffee chains are also looking to organize their workplaces. Over the past six months, workers at several Peet’s Coffee locations in California successfully unionized, while a union movement has also targeted venture capital-fueled upstart Blank Street Coffee.

Now, workers at a Dunkin’ store in Cincinnati, Ohio, have filed for a union election to join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM). This is the first Dunkin’ location to file for an election since 2011—the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a filing in early August 2023, but it doesn’t appear on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) website. Neither BCTGM nor Dunkin’s parent company Inspire Brands commented on the news.

What makes this drive different is that Dunkin’ is a franchised business, where an individual or group licenses the branding and business model of a larger brand or corporation. The article notes that unionizing a business based on a franchise model is especially challenging since this system “fragment[s] employment between a number of employers, resulting in unions having to wage separate campaigns, rather than a single, national campaign effort.” Multiple people on threads in the r/DunkinDonuts subreddit have speculated on why the brand seems so immune to unionization, with most responses pointing to the franchise system as the likely reason.

The NLRB has been trying to make companies like Dunkin’ more responsible for the labor conditions of their franchisee stores. The Fair Labor Standards Act contains a joint employer rule that determines whether two companies (say a brand and its franchises) jointly control a worker’s terms of employment and thus share responsibility for unfair labor practices and union bargaining. However, the rule is currently open to interpretation, something the NLRB is trying to change. “The policy itself has vacillated based on the party in the majority,” writes Bloomberg Law, “with Republicans favoring a more business-friendly standard and Democrats seeking to crack down on employers looking to punt liability for alleged abuses.”

Separately, workers at a Dunkin’ location in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, walked off the job two weeks after delivering a letter to management demanding liveable wages and consistent schedules. The strike took place alongside Union of Southern Service Workers members, although the news story doesn’t mention whether the workers seek to unionize. 

Read the full story here.

‘Fair Trade USA Names Partners in Coffee Certification Program Renewal’ – via Daily Coffee News

In April, Fairtrade International announced that it would raise the baseline prices it pays for coffee, increasing arabica coffee prices by 40 cents to $1.80 per pound and robusta by 19 cents to $1.20 per pound. A few months later, Fair Trade USA, a separate organization, decided not to follow Fairtrade International’s lead, choosing to freeze their baseline prices through the end of 2023. Instead, the organization launched its “Innovation for Impact Initiative,” a multi-stakeholder project to revise and redesign its Fair Trade Certified program.

Fair Trade USA has brought on a key project partner: IDEO.org, “an award-winning design consulting firm specializing in innovation for social impact.” This is part of Fair Trade USA’s goal, shared at the time of the price freeze announcement, to reevaluate its mission. “If our singular focus in the past was on price and premium,” Fair Trade USA founder and CEO Paul Rice told Daily Coffee News in July, “our focus in the future is going to be much more holistically on the wellbeing of the producers and the value to the industry.”

Before the initiative’s launch, Fair Trade USA went on “an extensive stakeholder consultation and listening tour” through which the organization “uncovered overwhelming demand across stakeholder groups for program renewal,” according to Rice. “Coffee producers want to sell more volume on Fair Trade Certified terms. They understand that price alone will not solve their problems. The industry wants greater transparency and data on impact.”

Alongside the key project partner, the initiative has an inaugural advisory board comprising representatives from Keurig Trading, Sustainable Harvest, Nespresso, and Westrock Coffee, coffee cooperative leaders and an executive vice president of the Colombian Coffee Federation.

Read the full story here.

More News

ICO and ILO Join Forces to Celebrate International Coffee Day‘ – via Global Coffee Report

Costa Rica and Colombia to Partner on Coffee Quality and Pricing‘ – via Tico Times

The Zero-Waste Conscious Coffee Fest Heads to Portland In September’ – via Sprudge

‘Ethiopia’s Coffee Sector May Be the Key To Sustainable Growth‘ – via Borgen Magazine

World Coffee Research Discusses Its New Robusta Catalog for Farmers’ – via Global Coffee Report

Learn To Taste Coffee At Home With A New Book By Jessica Easto‘ – via Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

Workers at the largest Starbucks in the world, the Reserve Roastery in Chicago, voted against forming a union by 119-90. Starbucks Workers United alleged union-busting at the roastery and said it had filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB for, among other things, mandatory captive audience meetings and illegal union surveillance in the run-up to the vote. “Starbucks did everything possible to stop workers from having a free and fair election,” the union said in a statement.

The company rejected this claim, calling the allegations “meritless,” and said that all its actions were in line with labor law. “Workers United should respect the right for all partners to share their experiences and beliefs related to union representation and should recognize the outcome of this properly conducted election,” a Starbucks spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune.

This setback for the Starbucks unionization movement comes as a new poll from the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, found that 71% of Americans support organized labor. Union favorability comes from all sides of the political aisle, including a majority of Republicans, two-thirds of independents and 91% of Democrats. Support was highest among those under 30, with 88% of respondents in favor of organized labor, while 75% of Americans support workers going on strike. 

Beyond the Headlines

‘Climate Change Makes for an Uncanny Pumpkin Spice Season’ by Jaya Saxena

‘Column: In Search of the Perfect Espresso Grinder’ by David Schomer

‘This VC Believes in Unions. Can He Convince the Rest of Corporate America to Join Him?’ by Issie Lapowsky

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Fionn Pooler

Fionn Pooler is a coffee roaster and freelance writer currently based in the Scottish Highlands who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for over a decade. Since 2016 he has written the Pourover, a newsletter and blog that uses interviews and critical analysis to explore coffee’s place in the wider, changing world (and also yell at corporations).

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