Update for 9 /11 2:30 PM PST: The Executive Council of the Barista Guild of America has released an official statement condemning the decision to award 2018 SCA / World Coffee Events competitions to Dubai. Please see below for the full statement.
Moments ago the global Specialty Coffee Association and its competitions body, World Coffee Events, announced host cities for the 2018 World Coffee Championships. As previously announced, the 2018 World Barista Championship will take place next June in Amsterdam. Today WCE announced that the 2018 World Latte Art Championship and World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship will be hosted in November at Brazil International Coffee Week in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. They’ve also announced that a series of championships will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre, including the Cezve/Ibrik Championship next February at Gulfood, and the World Brewers Cup, World Cup Tasters Championship, and World Coffee Roasting Championship at GulfHost next September as part of Dubai International Hospitality Week.
A complete press release, including more information about event hosts and sponsorship opportunities, is available here via World Coffee Events.
What you will not see in that World Coffee Events press release is any mention of why Dubai, and the federal monarchy to which it belongs, the United Arab Emirates, might be a controversial choice to host an international specialty coffee event. Let’s explore two controversial issues: slave labor and human rights abuses against LGBTIQ citizens and foreigners in the Emirati states.
First, slavery. The kafala sponsorship system, which operates in all Gulf Cooperation States, has come increasingly under scrutiny as preparations are made for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. News organizations including the BBC, The Guardian, Deadspin and the New York Times have extensively profiled the extent to which slave labor is used in major construction projects in the Gulf States, and organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the kafala system as modern-day slavery. Kafala practices are very much alive and well in today’s Dubai, and are just the tip of the iceberg for the country’s troubling human rights record—what the New York Times earlier this year called “systemic human rights abuses” in Dubai.
Second, it’s essentially against the law to be gay in the United Arab Emirates. Transgender identity and homosexuality are crimes here. Consensual gay sex can result in jail time of months or even years, and sodomy is technically punishable by death in the UAE, though some claim the death penalty law has never been enforced in Dubai.
As per one refugee aid association, “All sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is illegal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and carries a penalty of ‘confinement for a minimum period of one year.'” There are numerous real world examples of foreigners being charged with jail time for being gay in Dubai.
In 2016 a British gay couple were “detained in the Dubai airport while staff laughed about their sexuality.” In 2009 a visiting lesbian couple were arrested and sentenced to prison time for kissing on a Dubai beach, and the Dubai police force has organized a special task force to monitor and prevent “homosexual and indecent activity” on public beaches in Dubai. There are reports of gay tourists being targeted for blackmail and extortion in Dubai, and when one recent robbery was reported, Dubai responded by opening a special investigation against the victim because he met his attackers on a gay website.
There are dozens more examples. All of this is publicly available information. In 2013, no less of an authority than the Obama-era US State Department issued a lengthy warning on “arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and lengthy pretrial detentions” for foreigners in the UAE. Elsewhere in that State Department report we learn that “the country’s two internet service providers used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values”—including LGBTIQ websites and advocacy groups; the report also includes vague and enormously alarming mention that “the government took action against cross-dressing individuals, and transsexuals.”
A chilling example of that occurred just one month ago, when two Singaporean nationals were arrested in a Dubai shopping mall for “looking feminine.” Dubai authorities have even been accused of specifically targeting gay travelers with unrelated nuisance charges, detaining one Canadian couple for daring to travel while gay with arthritis medication.
If you’re a gay national champion hoping to represent your country at the 2018 World Brewers Cup, World Cup Tasters or Cezve/Ibrik Championship, you should be concerned. If you are a gay volunteer, a gay judge, gay journalist, exhibitor, or potential sponsor, you should be concerned. If your company employs or supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex staff, you should be concerned. If you consider yourself an ally of LGBTIQ communities, however imperfect a term “ally” may be, you should be concerned.
If you are a Specialty Coffee Association member or employed by a Specialty Coffee Association member company, you should be concerned.
We’re obviously concerned, and so we reached out to World Coffee Events for comment in advance of this morning’s news release. They referred us to the Specialty Coffee Association, whose Director of Communications, Vincente Partida, replied with the following comment from SCA on hosting their 2018 events in Dubai.
The SCA “strongly condemns the persecution of members of the GLBTQ+ community and any use of slave labor,” up to the point of awarding multiple international events to their “stellar” event partners in Dubai, where slave labor is the norm and homophobia is the law. At which point the condemnation turns out to be, you know, not that strong.
The SCA promises to “work with our host partners to provide our competitors, volunteers, judges, and guests with the best possible experience at the show with maximum consideration for their safety,” unless you happen to be gay and bringing prescription medication into the country. Or get caught kissing on the beach. Or get held hostage and robbed by someone you met on Grindr. At which point the SCA and its event partners can’t do a lot to protect you.
The SCA’s code of conduct for events clearly states [emphasis ours]:
Sadly this zero tolerance policy for harassment does not extend to the Dubai authorities, who can and will harass, detain, and imprison visitors for the crime of being gay.
The SCA’s decision to award these events to Dubai violates its own code of conduct. Gay coffee professionals will have to measure the risk of detainment, harassment, and possible prison time in order to attend and participate in the SCA’s 2018 events in Dubai. If you’re reading this, you should be concerned. As a gay-owned publication and long-serving media partner of World Coffee Events and the Specialty Coffee Association, we are very fucking concerned.
Specialty Coffee Association members were not consulted prior to awarding a portion of the 2018 World Coffee Championships portfolio to Dubai-based festivals. But what happens next is very much up to the membership.
This story is developing…
Know more about the decision to award 2018 SCA/WCE events to Dubai? Get in touch.
Update: Official Statement from the Executive Council of the Barista Guild of America.
This news from SCA is disappointing.
As volunteer leaders of the Barista Guild of America, elected by our members, and commissioned with the objective of directing and protecting our members’ collective interests within SCA activity, services, and events, we find ourselves dumbfounded and saddened with the news this morning. To be notified, along with our community, that SCA and World Coffee Events has decided to host several of our annual World Coffee Championships in a city built on modern-day slave labor, within a federal monarchy where laws, policies, and behavioral norms stand to alienate and endanger those in our community who identify as LGBTIQ, women, and/or those who might adhere to particular religious beliefs is unacceptable. We do NOT support this decision.
Furthermore, we are troubled by the Senior Staff and Board of Directors’ failure to consult our team at any point during the decision making process. To put in plainly, we feel dis-empowered and impotent – refused, by no action of our own, the opportunity to do the very job we were elected to do.
While there is no immediate resolution we can assure, please know that we will do everything in our power to uncompromisingly uphold our code of conduct while working with SCA Volunteer Leadership and Staff –
“… a zero tolerance policy for harassment, violent behavior, and sexually offensive behavior or actions. This includes, but it not limited to: harassment toward another individual on the basis of gender, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, religion, creed, race, color, national origin, medical condition, genetic disorder, physical or mental disability, marital status, age or sexual orientation; physical or verbal threats; unwelcome attention; bullying, stalking; use of physical force; behavior that creates a disturbance or is dangerous, including lewd or generally offensive behavior or language; using sexually explicit or offensive language or conduct; and obscene gestures. Anyone found to be behaving in any way that violates this policy, either in person or online, may be removed from the Association without refund and may be banned from future SCA events.”
We will do our very best to provide updates as things continue to unfold…
In the meantime, let your voice be heard – https://www.change.org/p/sca-change-the-location-of-the-18-…
—Barista Guild of America Executive Council members David Fasman, Brent Hall, Liz S. Dean, Todd Mackey, Mark Hundley, Kathie Hilberg, Sarah Leslie, Matthew Scott, Laila Wilbur, and Gabe Smentek.