In spite of 30 years of goodwill and promises for a Fair-Trade coffee, there have never been so many kids working in the fields. But worst, child labor in coffee farms is the overlooked side of a system of exploitation that longs toward slavery. Only after five years of working on this theme I understand my findings could be controversial.
I started working with the Mauritanian anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid and he passed on the idea of «mental chains». For example, those of the slave who has known only servitude, and conceives nothing outside of it. But this goes together with the interest of destabilizing the Masters’ mental serenity because he also carries his chains. They confine him to an assumed superiority that normalizes oppression.
But, when the extreme poverty in coffee regions makes child labor looks like a necessary evil, how did we come to accept it? To put a child at work for 40 hours a week, to carry his own weight in coffee, for us in Europe to enjoy it. There is only evil here.
So, could we be subjected to mental chains too? Chains that dictate a way of seeing the world and stay invisible unless they are disrupted...
To find out, I propose you accompany me to the land where our coffee grows, in Central America and especially between Guatemala and Mexico. In what used to be the Mayan empire. Here, coffee arrived like the Europeans, with slavery.
Note that the Mayan culture has never disappeared, its descendants are now the heirs of 500 years of anti-colonial struggle and those who are exploited in the plantations. This is why we will have a look at the history of this clash with the European culture. Because no issues of slavery can be raised without considering the context in which it happens.
In other words, this will be an observation of the power dynamics between agents inside the coffee supply chain. As the world second most traded good, after oil, coffee can tell a lot about the global economy of the 21st century.
Ultimately, there is not a word on slavery that does not speak about freedom. Something the dogma of individual responsibility takes for granted. But is freedom only available inside the system? Or do cultures provide us the chains for our own servitude, maybe to help us bear with its consequences?
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