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Business

Coffee Industry to Adopt Conduct Code

Producers, marketers and industry groups from the worldwide coffee sector is set to agree on a draft code of international standards at a meeting in Hamburg on Friday.

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Coffee pickers should benefit from the new standards

The massive coffee sector is finally getting a draft international code of social, ecological and economical standards.The industry's movers and shakers are meeting in the German city of Hamburg to adopt the draft text. Similar codes have been tried in the past but they failed to reach all aspects of the market. But not everyone is happy with the new code of conduct.

Unhealthy working conditions, terribly long hours, bad pay -- that’s the reality for many workers at coffee plantations. Their suffering is made worse by poor national legislation, an extremely competitive market and overproduction which keeps coffee prices low.

Calls for code

Human rights organizations, politicians, and some of the major businesses in the coffee industry have long called for universal social, ecological and economical standards to be put in place. Now the key players in the sector have come together to create just such a code. It’s called the Common Code for the Coffee Community, or CCCC.

Manoel Bertone is the executive director of the National Coffee Council of Brazil, one of the world’s largest coffee-producing countries. He’s been working on the CCCC project since it started two years ago. Bertone explained that some of the initiatives already in place are too limited and says that their aim is to change things right from the root up.

"They pay a little more and put a label on it but that won’t solve the problem," he said.

The code outlines things like environmental standards, long-term ecological planning, legislation improvement, social planning, and work ethics. All of the important roasting companies, for instance Tchibo in Germany, Kraft, and Nestle have signed up to the project. NGO’s like Greenpeace, Oxfam, unions and other interest groups are also on board and it has backing from the International Coffee Organization and the United Nations.

TransFair says code is not enough

But one group has decided not to participate, the German-based TransFair group which supports fair trade. It thinks the CCCC code doesn’t go far enough in supporting the smaller coffee producers. Dieter Overath is the head of the company.

"The clear difference between fair trade and social standards is that social standards are automatically included in fair trade deals," Overath said. "We focus on keeping a high price so that the producers can improve their working and living conditions."

Overath is also concerned about how these standards proposed in the CCCC will be enforced and controlled. The project is directed by a Steering Committee made up of people representing groups from all aspects of the coffee sector. The groups will then implement the codes on a national level.

Bertone said the way to make things happen is to keep everyone involved as much as possible. He’s hopeful that progress will be made but he admitted it won't be easy.

"It’s very difficult to know if these changes will result in better prices," he said.

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