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Deferment Policy Creates Disappointment and Uncertainty

I was going to discuss aspects of Sintercafé (9-12 November), this week as I have just returned, but during the conference the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) released its long-awaited decision regarding the World Championships in Dubai in 2018. The decision, announced 9 November, created a slew of backlash for the SCA.

The decision came in the form of a new “Deferred Candidacy Policy” for international coffee competitions. The policy was created following an outcry from specialty coffee professionals around the world over hosting the 2018 World Coffee Roasting Championship, World Cup Tasters Championship and World Brewers Cup in Dubai, UAE, a nation with well-known human rights violations and LGBTQIA abuses.

In September, the SCA awarded the 2018 World Barista Championships to Dubai. That same day, the SCA announced it was temporarily suspending planning around Dubai pursuant to concerns around inclusivity and the safety of world championship competitors.

Under the new policy, national champions may seek to defer to enter world coffee competitions due to “nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity/orientation, health, bereavement or force majeure.”

Following the announcement, Sprudge Media Network resigned as the SCA media partner and left the 2017 World Barista Championship that was taking place in Seoul, Korea. The Canadian SCA has moved to pull their competitors from global tournaments, and many companies and individuals are considering dropping their SCA memberships (many of which vociferously Tweeted their decisions).

At Sintercafé, the decision created more questions than answers: “What are they thinking?” exclaimed one attendee, while another wanted to know how the Board of Directors voted. “What was the motivating factor to move ahead with Dubai as the venue?” asked another. Of course, Twitter was also abuzz with scathing comments.

One SCA member, who preferred to remain anonymous said, “I am concerned that the focus is on LGBTIAQ+ and does not include any religious or racial discrimination that is the result of UAE government policy or law. I am encouraged to see lively debate online questioning people’s motivations and actual opinions after getting past the emotional arguments. This is a complex issue for UAE as well as the emerging coffee community within the UAE. I remain disappointed that the SCA appears to place greater weight and value on the business of the association than the wants and needs of the members…I fear this, or maybe the next controversy, will ultimately be the downfall for an organization that had/has such great potential for good. This is now a damaged organization moving backwards, which is sad and disappointing for all the wonderful volunteers who helped it become successful. Poor management by unqualified individuals brought us to this place – roasting & cupping coffee and pouring latte art does not qualify someone to operate or manage a multi-national non-profit trade association. Hopefully and optimistically improvement is on the horizon.”

Many coffee communities around the world, including the SCA UK Chapter are holding “town hall meetings” this week to discuss the SCA’s new policy and its effects.

I normally try to remain neutral, but I am also disappointed with the SCA’s decision. Sustainability in the coffee industry is a key proponent for the SCA. SCA events have sessions devoted to that very topic and their executives are speaking about it at other conferences and events globally. But sustainability in coffee cannot exist only at origin, it must run through the entire supply chain—from producers, exporters, and importers to roasters, baristas, allied coffee professionals, and consumers. The new SCA policy excludes many members of the coffee supply chain. Furthermore, the under the new policy, the onus of seeking deferment is placed on competitors affected by the SCA’s choice of host countries. A gay or transgender competitor with reason to fear travel to Dubai must first out themselves to their national body clearly indicating why they feel unsafe in traveling to a nation with homophobic laws. The same is true for a competitor fearing religious or racial persecution. The deferment request must then be approved by a WCE committee before deferment is approved. This policy is inherently exclusionary and insensitive. Is this sustainability at work?

This is a crucial moment in the SCA’s short history. I hope that this new policy and subsequent controversy will somehow eventually effect positive change rather than leading to the downfall of an organization that has great potential to “do good” for so many.

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