A culture at high risk for violations of human rights at work

"Only the red berries, blackberries should be picked to ensure quality coffee to consumers,” explains Miguel, in charge of the picking in an estate in Chiriquiarea.

« The green ones, the most numerous in this season, will be picked as and when they ripen, which means making several passes on a single shrub».

On this occasion, an army of pickers with nimble hands flock into this zone where the largest Panamanian coffee producers rub shoulders such as Duran, Eleta Café or CaféBalboa.

On Miguel’s plantation, which totals 175 hectares of coffee trees in Piedra Candela sectors, Río Sereno and Renacimiento, in several weeks, staff number grows « from about forty employees to more than 700», hesays.

The temporary staff in charge of the picking, a job that doesn’t need any qualification, is from Amerindians tribes Ngöbe and Buglé who live inNgöbe-Buglé reserve (comarca) neighboring the province ofChiriqui.

A real annual migration to the coffee plantations, which concerns entirefamilies. Spread in several camps on the property, they embark six day a week, from sixin the morning and for more than eight hours straight, to conquer the steep slopes of the mountain to collect the precious ' cherry ' which the beans end up in consumers' cups around theworld.

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Forced and child laborrisks

« Migrants of agricultural sector, even if they come voluntarily, without going through temporary agencies, find themselves very easily in forced labor situation, or in abusive working conditions », notes Martine Combemale. Indeed, « They live isolated on the plantation, they do not have intermediaries (unions) to defend them against the owners, they can be submitted to overstress and be fired overnight…»

Furthermore, « they, often, come with their families. Most of the time, as there is no schools nearby; children go with their parents in the fields and work by their side without being registered as workers. Officially, they don’t exist » she adds.

« Working in a coffee plantation, is dangerous for the children », highlights Diane Mull, Director of IIECL. Indeed, they may have to carry loads too heavy for their age, to use tools that may hurt them (spades, machetes...), and above all to come into contact with applied pesticides in the coffee plantation ». Hence the importance of mapping the tasks performed by employees and to prevent harm to youngerworkers.