Brazil is known as the world’s biggest coffee exporter producing over 1.3 million tons of coffee every year but the story behind how the country got to the top is what you may find fascinating.
Initially, coffee was not in the Americas until the 18th century when Francisco de Melo Palheta planted a coffee bush in the state of Pará.
He smuggled the coffee seeds into the country in a spiked bouquet he received from the governor’s wife at the French Guiana after he seduced her to help him out. This was because the governor was unwilling to export the seeds. From these ‘humble beginnings’ the Brazilian coffee industry has made it through different economic recession and depression periods.
There are about 3.5 million coffee farmers that are contracted but the rest work illegally. In total, it is believed there are about 5 million coffee workers in Brazil. According to some sources, migrant workers make up 30% of the coffee farmers and Coffee accounts for about 8 million Brazilian jobs.
Often times, coffee plantations employ a limited amount of workers to work all year round. These workers are required to spray pesticides, apply fertilizers or plant the coffee bushes. Then during the harvest period, they hire a different set of workers (they are called Seasonal Workers).
The year-round workers get a fixed salary while the wage for the Seasonal or harvest workers get paid by how many sacks they can fill up; each sack is 60 liters of coffee. Eventually, their total wage would vary by coffee bush or plantation because some will produce more coffee than others.
You may be wondering why the employment rate is still high regardless of the low wage rate let alone the terrible conditions these workers function under. Most of the migrant workers come from the rural parts of the Brazil where the drought prevents agriculture and the others come from local parts around the farms. These workers are mostly uneducated so they have no idea about the violation of their rights.
Many Human Rights activist believe that the conditions these workers, especially immigrants, function in are a form of modern slavery. They are currently working alongside Brazilian policymakers to address and eradicate modern slavery among Brazilian coffee plantations and other laborers.