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Colombian coffee producers demonstrate benefits of sustainability standards

A new ILO report highlights how institutionalization of value chains can have a positive impact on working conditions, including occupational safety and health (OSH).

Feature | 22 December 2017
GENEVA (ILO News) – Consumer preferences for coffee produced in socially, economically and environmentally sustainable conditions has helped promote occupational safety and health (OSH) measures in Colombia’s coffee sector thanks to the National Federation of Coffee Growers and its role as a catalyst for sustainability at farm level, the ILO said in a report, adding that this could be replicated in other global value chains.

Thanks to their organization in cooperatives, even small farmers are able to participate in voluntary sustainability standards (VSS), which require the adoption of better OSH practices, according to the report: Food and agriculture global value chains: Drivers and constraints for occupational safety and health improvement Volume One and Volume Two.

The fact that the National Federation of Coffee Grower, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, is channelling information and resources to small farmers on occupational safety and health is identified by international buyers as a key factor of competitiveness. Indeed, thanks to those initiatives, farmers can more easily access VSS certifications – such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance and Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality – which enable them to sell coffee at a premium price. Columbia is one of the leaders in production of coffee under sustainable standards, with an 18 per cent share of the segment of verified or certified volumes.

The report says the experience of the coffee value chain in Colombia has reached a point where it could serve the development of other supply chains in the country at a time when the peace agreement between the Government and the FARC guerrilla provides a unique opportunity to improve conditions of work in the rural environment and combine it with a strategy for commercial competitiveness.

At the same time, Colombia’s experience could also benefit coffee supply chains in other producer countries, the report says, adding that international buyers consulted had a positive perception of the implementation of OSH in Colombia in comparison with other countries.

In addition to coffee in Colombia, the report also includes a case study of the palm oil value chain from Indonesia, and the lychee value chain from Madagascar.

The report is part of an ILO-EU project to improve the knowledge base on OSH in global supply chains, which account for an estimated 60 to 80 per cent of world trade.