Supply Chain Characteristics that Impact Traceability

Traceability Takeaways

  • Forced labor and child labor risks are present in the coffee sector in multiple geographic regions around the world. Therefore, companies need to understand the geographic footprint of their coffee sourcing to enable a more comprehensive understanding of the specific risks that may be present in given countries and sub-regions. The widespread nature of potential risks does not support a traceability solution that aims to screen out coffee sourced from a limited number of high-risk locations. While risk is present at numerous nodes throughout the supply chain, the primary labor rights risks exist at the farm level. This is particularly evident during the harvest season, when large numbers of temporary workers join the workforce on coffee farms. For traceability systems to provide insights into labor practices in the coffee supply chain, it is critical that they can capture information up to the farm level.
  • Most coffee producers are smallholder farmers. A significant portion of them lack access to capital for the technology needed to implement intensive forms of traceability and/or the administrative capacity for bureaucratic implementation. Traceability systems should incorporate assistance for small-scale producers so that traceability efforts do not have the unintended consequence of further marginalizing smallholders.
  • Because coffee is a crop with a narrow peak harvest window, many producers rely on the influx of large numbers of temporary migrant workers for labor during the harvest season. Migrant workers are likely to work on multiple coffee plantations, following migration patterns in a specific country or region. Therefore, traceability systems that can shed light on the geography (region, country) of such areas may provide a suitable level of information needed to inform program designs or prioritize further risk assessment on the ground.

Nature of Labor Rights Risk/Vulnerable Workers

Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by U.S. Government

Child Labor cited by U.S. Government

Risk of Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by other source

Risk of Child Labor cited by other source

Documented presence of migrant workers

Documented presence of vulnerable workers

Documented presence or significant likelihood of third-party labor recruiters

Features of Production and Supply Chain

Large numbers of dispersed, unorganized, or informal small producers or other worksites

Multiple points of aggregation, co-mingling, and/or transformation across supply chain

High degree of flexibility in procurement practices of downstream entities

Complex/opaque supply chains and/or lack of vertical integration

Distribution of Labor Risk in Various Production Areas

Scale or nature of risk is present across multiple tiers or nodes of supply chain (including in associated downstream or upstream goods)

Scale or nature of risk varies significantly based on geographic area of production

Scale or nature of risk is strongly associated with certain types of suppliers/entities

Linked Upstream and Downstream Risks

Risk in Nodes in Coffee Production

The harvest season presents the highest risk of labor abuses in the coffee value chain. Many coffee varieties are harvested via “selective picking,” or only harvesting ripe beans. This harvesting technique is labor-intensive and not easily mechanized (though it has been in some regions). Selective picking requires a significant number of laborers to pick the ripe coffee beans at the right time. To accommodate the high demand for labor, many producers rely on an influx of temporary migrant workers, who may be vulnerable to labor exploitation.

After the beans are dried, hulled, sorted, and milled, they are loaded onto ships for export.910 Steps from Seed to Cup. National Coffee Association, Though the risks to laborers’ rights are most concentrated in the early stages, they also exist in the processing and transportation stages, where heavy labor is often involved in the drying, hulling, and milling processes. 

Cultivation and Harvesting

Drying, Hulling, Milling, Sorting



Wholesale and Retail

Associated Downstream Goods and Consumer Sectors

Food and Beverage

Coffee beans are often used in the production of caffeinated drinks sold at the retail level.

Food and Beverage

Coffee beans are sold whole to consumers to grind themselves, as well as in ground form. Coffee beans and ground coffee are also sold to small and large retailers from coffee shops to fast food establishments.

Top Global Countries

  1. Brazil10List of exporters for the selected product in 2021. 0901 Coffee, whether or not roasted or decaffeinated; coffee husks and skins; coffee substitutes containing coffee in any proportion. ITC Trade Map,
  2. Switzerland
  3. Colombia
  4. Germany
  5. Vietnam
  6. Italy
  7. France
  8. Honduras
  9. Ethiopia
  10. Belgium
  1. Brazil11Crops and livestock products. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
  2. Vietnam
  3. Colombia
  4. Indonesia
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Peru
  7. Honduras
  8. India
  9. Uganda
  10. Guatemala

Examples & Resources: Traceability Efforts Associated with Coffee