Combating Child Labor on International Coffee Day

Author: 
Sofia Williamson-Garcia, Child Protection Unit Intern

Colombia is known for producing some of the highest-quality coffee in the world, with its unique geography making for excellent growing conditions. More than 500,000 Colombians work in the coffee industry, fulfilling a centuries-old tradition across nearly 2.2 million acres of Colombian highlands. Coffee growing is a central part of Colombian identity and culture; however, it is also one of the sectors in which child labor is most prevalent. This reality may be worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
On September 29, Partners will commemorate International Coffee Day by emphasizing the importance of protecting workers from abusive and unfair conditions in the Colombian coffee sector through our Colombia Avanza project. Since December 2017, Colombia Avanza aims to improve the capacity of Colombian civil society to better understand and address child labor and promote acceptable conditions of work in Colombia’s coffee sector.  

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Since its inception, Colombia Avanza has taken major steps toward accomplishing its main initiatives. The project primarily works in the Colombian departments of Tolima and Huila, given that these regions have the highest national participation in coffee production.  

The Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FEDECAFE) (the “National Federation of Coffee Growers” in English), one of the country’s most prominent worker’s unions, is an important strategic partner for Colombia Avanza. FEDECAFE and Colombia Avanza have created strong partnerships with local governments, collaborated in the development of joint communication campaigns, and have held trainings and forums on child labor and working conditions in the coffee sector.  
 
In March 2020, Colombia Avanza adjusted its activities and efforts to confront the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of mid-September 2020, Colombia has the sixth-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, and the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. 
 
The pandemic creates unprecedented issues for Colombian coffee growers. The need for workplace safety and sanitary conditions are at an all-time high. Moreover, children around the globe have become more at risk for child labor than ever before: educational institutions have shut down and economic conditions worsen, leaving families in desperate need of additional sources of income. As workers in collapsing economies struggle to make ends meet, they are also more likely to enter abusive working conditions.  
 
To confront these challenges, Colombia Avanza has engaged in a wide variety of communications campaigns and strategies. In April 2020, the program launched an extensive radio campaign, given that coffee growers’ primary source of media and information is local radio. The campaign included a jingle with tips for COVID-19 awareness and prevention, in the raguetón musical style, which is culturally familiar to local coffee growers.     
 
The radio campaign has been broadcasted daily to the 62 most popular radio stations in the coffee-growing regions and has now reached rural citizens in 203 different local municipalities and 12 regional departments.  
 
After seeing the positive impact of the jingle, the project created an animated video to accompany the tune called, “La Salud de Todos es Asunto de Todos, or “Our Community’s Health is Everyone’s Responsibility”. The video has been widely shared through WhatsApp within coffee grower groups. In addition, the project created a COVID-19 response page on the Partners website to consolidate information on COVID-19 prevention in the coffee sector. 
 
Other project activities have continued despite the pandemic, while taking into consideration necessary precautions. In the last few months, Colombia Avanza and FEDECAFE worked together to create a poster with information regarding hazardous activities forbidden for children and adolescents that were distributed among civil society organizations at the national and local levels. In addition, informational videos aimed at helping coffee growers identify child labor have been produced and disseminated across local social media and TV networks. 

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Poster distributed by Colombia Avanza showing which activities are hazardous for children. 

Furthermore, a recent partnership with the Universidad de Ibagué led to the development of a training program aimed at civil society organizations in the target departments of Huila and Tolima. The training program included information on Colombian and internationally recognized children and labor rights, instances where child labor and/or hazardous labor might be present in the coffee sector, the appropriate reporting mechanisms, and more. These civil society organizations have then gone on to replicate these trainings and administer them to coffee growing communities.

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Colombia Avanza carries out a training session. 

International Coffee Day is more than a time to celebrate the beloved daily activity of coffee drinking, but an important time to reflect on where our coffee comes from. By improving workers’ rights and educating coffee growers on acceptable conditions of work, we can improve productivity and safety in the sector.  
 
In the age of COVID-19, Colombia Avanza’s work has become even more critical. The project will continue to work with its partners to ensure that all coffee-growers and their families can carry on a centuries-old tradition in just, fair, and safe conditions. 
 
Want to learn more about Colombia Avanza's goals, strategies, and accomplishments? Read the project's Press Kit.  

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