BIBRA Lake coffee roaster Luke Bates is obsessed with creating the perfect coffee but he also has concerns about the exploitation of growers around the world.
Mr Bates began his business Grand Central Coffee Roasters in 2011. He had been hooked after landing a job at a cafe three years earlier.
“About a year into working at Epic Espresso I purchased a small home roaster and started exploring the whole process of roasting,” he said.
“I fell in love and straight away knew this is what I needed to go do. The goal is always to produce a better coffee (but) it’s an endless pursuit.”
Mr Bates does not use Fairtrade-certified produce but said sourcing ethically harvested beans for his business was a priority.
He worked closely with suppliers buying directly from farms, adding “a more direct trade approach will always give the farmer a better portion of the income”.
“It is a moral obligation for us to ensure those that are at the greatest risk of financial exploitation be looked after and given a fair pay,” he said.
“Therefore we ask hard questions of our suppliers, wishing to know everything about the supply chain and the positive effect coffee farming is having on the community.
“For example, one of the coffee estates we purchase from has built a school for the local children and has 180 students being educated from the sale of the farm’s coffee.”
Mr Bates said the business also donated $1 from every kilogram bag sold on its website to Initiate Australia, a not-for-profit which invests in initiatives tackling poverty.
With an estimated 1.6 billion cups consumed across the globe each day, coffee is big business.
But with more than 80 per cent of coffee produced by smallholder farmers, the majority in developing countries, it is also an industry with links to exploitive labour practices.
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand chief executive Molly Harriss Olson said the cost of production is often higher than what farmers are paid for their harvest, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.
She said it was not unusual to see children taken out of school so they can contribute to the family income.
“Coffee farmers only receive around 7 to 10 per cent of the retail price of coffee in supermarkets,” she said.
“This reflects the current inequity faced in global trade – particularly in coffee where only five companies control over 50 per cent of coffee traded around the world.
“When you consider that last year Australians spent almost $800 million on over two billion cups of coffee, yet farmers growing this coffee cannot afford to provide for the basic needs of their family, this is a very real issue we need to address.”