From bitter to better: A collective effort to improve workers’ rights in the coffee industry

Ying Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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Coffee has become a staple in our everyday life. We reach for our coffee machine or French press in the morning before turning our minds to work or school. We crave that caffeine hit to kick-start the morning and have a productive day. However, while we enjoy our coffee, very few of us think about where our coffee comes from and under what conditions the beans are produced. Nowadays, coffee production is still closely linked to child labor, forced labor, poor working conditions, unfair wages, and many other forms of human rights violations. These issues have attracted some media attention. However, they have not generated much academic interest among scholars. Existing literature often focuses on a single issue, such as child labor, or they favor a single-solution approach, such as fair trade. This Article acknowledges that the existing literature has provided great insight into individual labor issues in the coffee industry. However, piecemeal approaches often struggle to bring about rapid improvement and they lead to suboptimal results. This Article aims to provide a holistic approach to improve global labor practices in the coffee industry. It argues that no individual or individual organization can solve labor issues in the global supply chains on its own. Rather, a collective effort across both the public and private sectors is required in order to bring coffee workers out of the shadows. Hopefully, we, the world together, can end the shameful history of human rights violations in the coffee industry.


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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-49
Number of pages49
JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


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