The coffee supply chain is interwoven with racial disparities, from plantation to cup. Most coffee comes from plantations managed by Black individuals yet profit and control often lie in white-owned businesses that exclude Black culture. This systemic issue, rooted in centuries of oppression and exploitation, calls for a concerted effort towards change.
- Ugly History of Oppression and Colonialism:The coffee industry is a commodity that moves a market valued at 200 billion dollars, however only 7% of that amount stays within the producing countries. However, the coffee is Black! [in the full sense of the word]. Its birth and development were only possible thanks to Black civilizations: on the one hand, coffee originated in Ethiopia and Sudan, there is no debate about it. And on the other, colonialism and slavery played major roles in spreading it to the rest of the world, thus establishing and developing the coffee industry. To launch profitable estates, European companies imported slaves from the African continent to labor on plantations in the Caribbean, Asia, and the Americas in what is known as the Triangular Trade.
Today 64% of Americans drink coffee daily, tallying around 400 billion cups a year. But only few dare to bring coffee’s dark side to the table.
Following in the legacy of colonialism, African descendants and indigenous people in the Americas continue to be the industry’s backbone, providing labor and wealth-generating coffee beans with little-to-no compensation. Today, wealthy North American and European companies profit off an exploited labor force. In 50 countries across Africa, South America and Asia, 125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods. Of that group, 63% live in poverty and 71% in extreme poverty… and you do not have to guess the color of the skin of those 71%. At the bottom of the coffee chain, slavery has simply not ceased to exist. Forced loans and forced labor to repay them is a daily occurrence, and "fair trade" certificates have done little to eliminate either child labor or modern-day slavery, with Brazil again assuming the role of worst offender.
Also on the coffee consumption side, with a billions-worth industry on the rise, what makes the most sense is for more Black entrepreneurs to embark on the adventure of reconquering a product that has belonged to us for millennia, and introduce our touch to steaming cups of culture, advocacy and social impact. But we are talking about an increasingly saturated market to enter. With chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s McCafé turning over tens of billions of pounds per year, it is normal for Black young entrepreneurs without capital and systemic barriers to face to think twice before entering this lucrative but competitive industry.
When establishing your coffeeshop, you must go beyond promoting hip hop culture and new trends. If you really want to stand out as someone who "walks the walk," take advantage of new technologies to reclaim all that coffee culture encompasses, activism for our history, a position of power and control over what we produce and sell, and a movement in search of real change. And for you consumer, support Black-owned coffee businesses and buy your beans from roasters that are transparent about how they’re compensating farmers and pay fair, livable prices to farmers… And remember, WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT GIVING UP FEELS LIKE. WE WANT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T.