Coffee: a story of profits, promises and poverty

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by Matteo Borea


Image: © Damian Sanchez / Public Eye


In the throbbing heart of the coffee industry, a bitter truth hides that no aroma can mask. The narrative of ethics and sustainability, touted by industry giants, brutally collides with the harsh reality of facts, leaving us with an aftertaste of hypocrisy that’s hard to swallow. The gleaming facade of social responsibility crumbles, revealing a landscape of exploitation and profit built on the bent backs of Mexican farmers, reduced, to put it bluntly, to conditions of modern slavery.


Ethics? Merely a decoration for labels

Much is said about ethics, environmental sustainability, and responsibility. But when these words are exploited to sell more coffee, they lose all their meaning. Investigations, like the one conducted by Public Eye in Mexico, tear through the veil of this corporate farce, demonstrating how industry giants consider sustainability a mere bauble, good for enriching brochures and advertising campaigns, but absent in the plantations where farmers’ lives are consumed between poverty and despair.

In the fabric of this narrative, the situation in Mexico emerges like indelible ink, testifying to the extremes to which farmers have been pushed to make themselves heard. Setting fire to sacks of coffee, a symbol of their lives and labor, is not an act of desperation, but a powerful scream against a system that suffocates their voices.

This act of rebellion illuminates the depth of their struggle, transforming every grain of burnt coffee into a message impossible to ignore. It’s a raw reminder that, while the world indulges in the comfort of a cup of coffee, there exists a parallel reality of struggle and sacrifice, where fire does not destroy, but speaks.


The future of coffee: between ethics and survival
Every cup of coffee hides untold stories, stories of farmers who see their land and lives devalued by a market that prioritizes profit above all else. They are stories of broken promises and impoverished lands, where the real cost of coffee is not measured in money, but in human lives. Popular narratives want us to believe that we are drinking an ethical product, but the reality is that every sip is steeped in injustice

The future of the coffee industry looks bleak. With the continuous deterioration of ethical and organoleptic conditions of industrial products, quality coffee is becoming a luxury that few can afford. The gap between « commercial » coffee and « excellence » coffee is widening, foreshadowing a future where enjoying a good coffee will be the privilege of a select few.

For small and medium players, the crossroads is clear: either choose the path of ethics and quality, or face inevitable decline.

In the face of this reality, indifference is no longer an option. It is time to raise our voices, to reject the veil of false ethics that the industry tries to cast over our eyes. It is time to demand transparency, to support those producers who, despite difficulties, choose the path of social and environmental responsibility.


Because the coffee we choose to drink should not only satisfy our palate but also reflect the values of justice and dignity for those who produce it


In this scenario, true change arises from awareness and the choices each of us makes. Supporting ethical small producers, being informed about the origin of the coffee we consume, rejecting products from companies that disregard human rights to inflate their profits, are concrete steps toward a coffee industry that is sustainable not just on the label, but in the reality of the plantations.

Faced with the growing commercialization of ethics, it is our duty to dig deeper, to look beyond appearances, to rediscover the true value of coffee: a value that resides not only in its quality but also and above all in justice and respect for those who labor every day so that cup reaches our tables.

It is time to decide which side to stand on, and we must do it every single time we enter a café or buy a package of coffee.