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Your $5 coffee costs way more than you think

Don’t even act like you don’t love coffee.

If you’re anything like me, it’s the lifeblood in your veins that makes you tolerable and functional at a basic level. It’s everywhere: the centerpiece of first dates, the topic of conversation in the latest hipster roastery and café on the corner, the lifejacket to rescue us from drowning in afternoon drowse and, of course, the primary reason we get out of bed in the morning.

Essential as it is to our urban survival, have you ever stopped to think about what our coffee really costs (besides an arm and a leg)?

For young people like Alberto, our coffee habit sustains his livelihood – but many workers like him aren’t seeing the payoff of their labors.

Low Income at a High Price

Since he was a young child, Alberto* has been working on local corn and coffee farms in Western El Salvador to help his family earn a small income. At the end of a 4 am to 6 pm workday, threatened by snakes, rats and unkind adults, a tired and hungry Alberto comes home to his large family in their one room house made of clay and wood.

Alberto earns money for his family armed with a basket, a machete and his bare hands to pluck coffee beans from trees or break up land, plant and harvest corn. He suffers from respiratory sickness; poor nutrition and the coolness of early morning labour often compromises his health.

The work is exhausting. It can take Alberto days to travel through the coffee forests to harvest the beans required for a 100 lb. bag of coffee. He then carries the bag alone, all 100lbs, to a farmer’s scale where he will earn only $8.00 to $10.00 for his work. These beans are then sold to the processor, the broker and on through the supply chain until it gets to us. We will pay $10.00 or more for just one pound of this coffee.

We Drink, Alberto Dreams

Alberto is proud of what he contributes to his family, and dreams of one day becoming a lawyer. Unfortunately, his inconsistent ability to study threatens to compromise his dream. He is behind in school and needs the opportunity to catch up in his studies. He is currently in grade 8 when he should be in grade 9, and according to the school he attends, Alberto is only at a grade 6 level in certain subjects.

Sadly, not only is Alberto risking his health to help his family, but he is also risking his future by not being able to focus properly on school. Better prices for farmers will result in better pay for adults working on the farms. Allowing adults in the family do the work gives children the opportunity to go to school regularly even while helping their parents.

It’s important that we feed our habits in a way that helps others instead of harming them. By purchasing products that are ethically sourced and fairly traded, you can help kids like Alberto continue to dream and achieve their goals while their families earn fair wages.

It’s the best case scenario – kids aren’t forced to labour, families earn good pay and we get to keep nursing our coffee habits knowing we’re making the world a better, fairer place.

*Alberto's name has been changed to protect his identity. 

Written by Meredith Hastings