Dust Off Your Business Ethics Manual

April 10, 2013
You don’t have to dig deep in the dirt of your own supply chain to find threats to human dignity and safety.

I’m not a coffee drinker, but the infographic I received via e-mail today roused my senses faster than a cup of 100% Columbian. Among the statistics it depicts is that if you drink two cups of coffee a day for a year, you’ll be spending more than the annual income of the coffee farmer in the developing country in which that crop was grown.

The source of this infographic was Alex Hillsberg, a Web Journalist who specializes in finance but also covers the people side of issues like health insurance affordability. He’s obviously interested in people’s welfare, which is evident from the statistics he includes in his infographic. A good chunk of it has to do with the coffee supply chain and a class of middlemen who make it possible for American caffeine addicts to get their daily fix. In fact, he portrays them as opportunists with a set of ethics equivalent to traders in a cocaine cartel.

These middlemen are called “Coffee Coyotes,” and they buy coffee cherries from farmers in third world countries at below-market prices and sell them to mills for a substantial profit. The annual income of these farmers is less than $1,000 while the annual cost of a coffee drinker’s Starbucks coffee habit amounts to $1200.

I won’t go into detail about Alex’s infographic. You can drink it in for yourself. But it did get me wondering about other takeaways logistics professionals should awaken to over their coffee break. I checked OSHA’s website to see if they had any info about the coffee industry state-side, and found one aspect of safety that affects not only the coffee processors who mill the beans that come from the cherries, but any material handler who works in a bulk commodity industry like that: combustible dust.

Coffee is among the many agricultural, chemical and mineral dusts that can ignite and explode under the right conditions. In fact OSHA has a nice poster of its own that lists all these dusts by category along with recommendations for controlling hazards associated with them.

If Excelso Coffee and Tea Co. had posted it on their office and plant walls the company might have avoided the $46,550 in citations OSHA inspectors hit it with a couple years ago for 19 violations related to combustible dust and other hazards at its Norcross, Ga., manufacturing facility. Fourteen serious violations included failure to:

· install isolation devices on their dust collector system to prevent fires and explosions;

· keep steel beams and floors free of coffee and tea dust accumulation; and

· develop and implement an emergency action plan and training in the use of fire extinguishers.

William Fulcher, director of OSHA's Atlanta-East Area Office, said it’s common for OSHA to find food and beverage manufacturers that ignore the dangers of combustible dust.

"Fixing these violations now is a lot easier than recovering from a fire or explosion that can result in injuries or even loss of life," he concluded.

Violations of safety and ethical codes of conduct can be found in every link of a global supply chain. Logistics managers don’t have to dig as deep into the third-world recesses of their network as Alex Hillsberg did. In fact they might be surprised at what they find by wiping the dust out of their eyes as they tour the conditions within their own four walls.

About the Author

Tom Andel Blog | former Editor-in-Chief

As editor-in-chief from 2010-2014, Tom Andel oversaw the strategic development of MH&L and MHLnews.com, bringing 30+ years of thought leadership and award winning coverage of supply chain, manufacturing logistics and material handling. Throughout his career he also served in various editorial capacities at other industry titles, including Transportation & Distribution, Material Handling Engineering, Material Handling Management (predecessors to MH&L), as well as Logistics Management and Modern Materials Handling. Andel is a three-time finalist in the Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Awards, the most respected editorial award in B2B trade publishing, and a graduate of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.