Updated on May 27th, 2019
The reality of life on many coffee farms is tough. The work is physical and demanding, but wages can be very low – often not enough for workers to support themselves and their families. Migrant workers on isolated farms are particularly at risk from poor conditions and exploitation. Yet for millions of people in coffee producing countries like Brazil this is the only way to earn a living. Fortunately certification can make a difference, as the de Souza family in southern Brazil have experienced.
Not your average journey to work
Every year, the de Souza brothers make a 1,000 kilometer journey across the Minas Gerais state in Brazil to harvest coffee at Ponto Alegre farm.
“We always spend the winter months harvesting coffee,” says the eldest brother, Renilson de Souza. “Work is scarce at this time of year back home.”
Renilson’s wife, father and children make the trip with them too. While it might sound a long way compared to the average commute, it’s well worth it for the de Souza family. They pick around 440 kilograms of coffee cherries a day, and in three months they earn roughly the equivalent of nine months on the minimum wage back home.
Towards a living wage for workers
The Ponto Alegre farm where Renilson’s family works is UTZ certified and offers better conditions than many other farms. As Renilson says:
Staying at a certified farm has given us more comfort both for ourselves and for our children who can go to school nearby while we work.
All UTZ certified farms are required to work towards paying the living wage – enough to give workers and their families a decent standard of living. A living wage is almost always more than the legal minimum wage, and it makes a significant difference to workers and their families.
We’re working with other leading certification schemes through the Global Living Wage Coalition to research wage benchmarks in different locations. In Minas Gerais, where Renilson and his family work, the typical wage is equivalent to $383 US dollars per month, compared with a living wage of $477.
Certification improves lives
The experiences of the de Souza family are reflected in independent studies on the benefits of certification. One recent study on certified farms in Brazil, for example, found that 70% of workers had directly seen the benefits of certification including safer working conditions and better facilities such as canteens and lavatories.
There is a still a long way to go to achieve widespread adoption of the living wage and improve life for all coffee workers. But by buying certified products, you are contributing to a more sustainable future for the sector and improving the lives of farmers, workers and their families today.