Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, writing it into their constitution when they declared their independence from France. US President Thomas Jefferson, an owner of enslaved persons himself, pursued a policy of isolating and impoverishing Haiti from the start, because he and some European leaders feared the Haitian Revolution would expand. From trade embargo to occupation, to later support for Haiti's bloody dictatorships and interfering in democratic elections, the United States has prevented the people of Haiti, once France's most productive colony, from achieving economic independence.
France brought coffee to Haiti as a cash crop during the colonial period, and Haitian coffee producers today talk about the fact that their ancestors produced coffee as enslaved people. Despite the global abolition of slavery, most small-scale coffee producers, in Haiti and elsewhere, still do not receive a living, sustainable price for their coffee. They are still laboring for little money so that wealthier suppliers can make a profit and consumers can get cheaper coffee. Labor exploitation has not ended; it has been renamed. In fact, we know that there is still forced labor in the global coffee supply chain.
Even some well-intended fair trade or direct trade companies continue to enable the economic system that keeps small producers poor. While their producer price may be slightly higher, it is rarely enough to support producer families and grow their businesses. Frequently charitable assistance is offered as a means of support to producer communities, instead of giving them a high enough price to begin with. Making communities dependent on charitable assistance is paternalistic and condescending neo-colonialism: it keeps vulnerable communities in developing nations, usually people of color, dependent on the wealthy, who are more often white.
Just Haiti presents an alternative economic vision. We are a collective of Haitians and non-Haitians dedicated to ensuring that the coffee growers we work with receive a high enough price for their coffee so that they can support their families in dignity and grow their businesses. It is not easy. Consumers in the United States are not accustomed to paying prices high enough so that they do not exploit the producer. Instead, US consumers are accustomed to seeking the cheapest price, without investigating the impact on the producers or factory workers. It is understandable; good information about supply chains is hard to find.