What’s hiding in your coffee?

Sweden’s coffee imports are under scrutiny by watchdog organization SwedWatch. According to their report on Wednesday slavery and child labour are still common practice in Brazil where nearly half of Sweden’s coffee imports originate. Coffee brands Gevalia and Zoégas received sharp criticism.

SwedWatch, a non-governmental organisation reporting on Swedish business relations with developing countries, decided to take a closer look to what was hiding in a cup of coffee brewed in Sweden. They found that despite improvements, the Brazilian coffee industry still suffers from “unacceptable ethical shortcomings”.

Gevalia and Zoégas were singled out in the report as having “flaws in their work ethics.” The report stated, “Neither company knows today whether indentured servitude or child labour is present in the production of their coffee beans.”

“The problem isn’t as widespread on the large coffee plantations. It’s on the small and medium-sized farms that child labour can still be found” Örjan Bartholdson told Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday.

The smaller farms sell their harvest to the larger trading companies and cooperatives.

“That’s why the companies we examined, Gevalia and Zoéga, can’t guarantee their coffee’s origins” said Bartholdson.

DN reported that Nestlé, owner of Zoéga, claim they can trace the origin of the beans in their organic coffee.

Approximately 4.6 million people work in the coffee industry, another 300,000 assist in the annual harvest. “A third of the farm labourer are estimated to not be protected by the social welfare system since they are unregistered workers” reported Örjan Bartholdson.

When asked how consumers could do their part Bartholdson recommended:

“Buy organic or ‘fair-trade’ marked products.”

“The fair-trade marked products can be more expensive, but the organic options are not more expensive. They contain excellent coffee and compared with another coffee of the same quality the price difference is either insignificant or non-existing.”

According to DN barely six per cent of coffee consumption in Sweden in 2004 was produced in accordance with social or environmental criteria. Less than one per cent of the coffee Swedes drink is fair-trade marked. Organic coffee is more available on the market and makes up four percent of coffee purchased.

Fika, anyone? Discuss!