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The EU’s Double-Edged Sword On Small-Scale Coffee Farmers


Coffee farmers will have to ensure that they do not employ children if Ugandan coffee is to access the European Union. The EU rules against child labor in the coffee sector are in addition to those under the European Deforestation Regulation or EUDR. 

The European Deforestation Regulation or EUDR will outlaw sales of products such as coffee with effect from 30 December 2024, if coffee exporters cannot prove they are not linked with deforestation.

To sell coffee in the European market, exporters will have to show that the coffee came from the land where forests have not been cut since 2020. 

Apart from EUDR, the European Union in April 20224 adopted the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)

The legislation will oblige large companies operating in the EU to assess the human rights and environmental risks linked to their operations and much of their supply chain, including outside Europe, and take steps to address them. 

While human rights groups welcome the directive saying it will address environmental and social sustainability, some observers have indicated that it could have far-reaching implications for countries including Uganda in terms of access to the EU market. 

One aspect of the directive targets the elimination of child labor in the coffee sector value chains. It is feared that the average small-scale coffee farmer is about to suffer from the vulgarities of global trade. 

Some have suggested that small-scale coffee farmers will have to change the way they have traditionally farmed the crop, especially in the labor aspects. In coming up with the Due Diligence Directive (CSD), the EU has insisted that it was out of the need to observe its values like democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. 

The EU also thought that the private sector could play an important role in promoting sustainability and that it could have adverse impacts. On the other part, it was thought that European companies could play an important role in global value chains in trade relations

The Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) is partly out of concern that in the last 20 years, child labor has increased, with over 160 million children compelled to work across the globe. 

Studies have found that seventy per cent of child labour occurs in agriculture, where it is both a cause and an effect of poverty. Child labor in global supply chains is particularly prevalent at the upstream level, in the production of raw materials and agricultural commodities.

Child labor in Coffee in Eastern Uganda

In 2022, The Centre For Study of African Child under African Child Research released a report titled “Child labor in the Coffee Industry in Eastern Uganda” The study focused on districts in the Bugisu/Elgon sub-region (Mbale, Kapchorwa, Sironko, and Bududa). It found that the overall prevalence of child labour in the coffee supply chain (CSC) was 48 percent: 51 percent among boys and 42 per cent among girls.  

It said that child labor in the Coffee sector was more prevalent in Kapchorwa (65%) and Bududa (50%) than in Sironko (35%) and Mbale (30%). 

According to the study, most of the children (61%) working in the coffee supply chain did so on the instruction of one or both parents. It said four in 10 children (43%) aged 5-7 were engaged in hazardous work, including the use of sharp tools, working long hours, exposure to agrochemicals and carrying heavy loads.

It reported that 13 per cent of children (aged 5-17 years) in coffee production reported working more than the allowable number of hours for their age group.

Kenneth Barigye, the Chief Executive Officer, Mountain Harvest Uganda suggests the need to sensitize the farmers to protect their children.

“I’m a parent. We all wish the best for the kids but in most cases, it is the situation that we are in that limits us. First, we are talking about a very old farmer. The average age of a farmer in Uganda is about 63. So chances are that this oil man or woman is living with grandchildren whose parents went to town but because of unemployment, they sent the kids home” said Barigye.

He says the cost of production in coffee is so high and that the biggest driver of the cost of production is labor. 

“The parent has a choice. I have to pay someone to work on the farm, or I have to use the labor that I have within my household,” said Barigye. Besides the high cost of labor, 

Barigye said the pricing system. He says the global pricing systems of coffee tend to be unfair to the farmers because the final price is not determined by the farmer but by international pricing. 

Gerald Kyalo, Director of Development Services, Uganda Coffee Development Authority agrees that child labor is such a big issue in the coffee industry and that the Ugandan coffee value chain is complex like in other coffee-producing countries. 

“We have almost 80% of the coffee produced by smallholder farmers. These farmers have small plots of 0.5-5 acres. I think maybe 20% are large-sale farmers,” Kyalo explains.

He noted that labor plays an important role in the coffee value chain. “Labor on the farm and labor on the other node of the value chain. Labor takes maybe 50% of inputs in terms of funds. And therefore family labor is always relied on and in most cases, it is children. Its parents working with children, so it is a complex value chain” said Kyalo. 

He suggested that if Uganda is to live up to the challenge of fighting child labor in the coffee sector, it has to put in place traceability mechanisms. 

“For us to achieve traceability, we must have a farmer registry. And this farmer registrar will show us where the farmer is, we can talk to them. And it can be easy to address the issue of child labor.” Currently, Uganda does not have an official coffee farmer’s registry though some coffee cooperatives and buyers have lists of farmers who sell to them. “The biggest focus for us to be compliant with EUDR and Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) is this traceability system. The other critical issue is the sensitization of the coffee actors,” Said Kyalo.  

Recently, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority said over 35 billion shillings (US$9.15) to register all coffee farmers and to put in place a national traceability system. 

Dr Emmanuel Iyamulemye, the Managing Director at Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) said the system would enable Uganda to comply with the European Union Regulations on deforestation-free products (EUDR). The need for a traceability system is becoming more urgent with CSSD.

The Coffee Act requires the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (“Authority”) to register all coffee farmers in the coffee subsector. The Authority is also required by law to establish and maintain a national register of coffee farmers.

Benjamin Davis, Director Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) noted the fact that coffee cultivation is primarily informal and practiced on family farming makes it complex to address child labor in the coffee sector. 

He suggested that there is a need to look at the European Union’s Zero-tolerance of child labor through the new directive and the implications for small-holder coffee farmers. “I think that is going to be a very important learning experience for Africa in implementing this kind of measures to address child labor”  

He added that there is a need to make sure that compliance with the directive does not exacerbate existing vulnerabilities for small-scale producers and families by excluding them from the markets. “It is complex. It ultimately means transforming rural communities to make them more resilient in order in the long term reducing child labor,” he added.

Last month, the European Commission, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the International Trade Centre (ITC), launched a joint program to tackle the root causes of child labour in supply chains. 

The action is funded by the European Union (EU) for a total budget of 10 million EUR and will contribute to the 8.7 Accelerator strategy.

The “Ending Child Labour in Supply Chains” project will be implemented over the next three years and in in Uganda, Honduras, and Viet Nam, which are important coffee producers, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the world’s leading producer of cobalt.  

The project aims to contribute to eliminating child labor in the coffee supply chain and leverage existing efforts in the minerals supply chain, particularly in cobalt production. It will address the root causes of child labor while also promoting preventive measures. 

Children involved in or at risk of child labor, as well as their families and communities, will directly benefit from the action.

Europe is the largest consumer market for coffee and relies on cobalt for the production of batteries used in electric cars, computers, and mobile phones.


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The EU’s Double-Edged Sword On Small-Scale Coffee Farmers

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