Starbucks and their Facade of Global Welfare

Its 12:00 O’CLOCK IN THE BLOOMSBURG STARBUCKS as I wearily walk up to the counter to order a tall freshly brewed coffee, and I ask  just out of sheer curiosity as I receive my steaming cup, “Is this coffee Fair Trade?”. The Starbucks sales associate stares at me confused. “No we don’t offer Fair Trade coffee”, she replies.

                Ironically the Starbucks Fiscal Report for 2007, (available hidden behind their coffee creamers and sugars) claims that,

“We’ve remained North America’s largest purchaser, roaster and distributer of Fair Trade Certified TM coffees and purchased 20 million pounds of coffee from Fair Trade Certified TM suppliers”.

However where all this Fair Trade Coffee is actually available remains a mystery. Starbucks uses only 6% Free Trade coffee and this coffee is only available in whole beans and is not brewed in stores. 

                So what is “Free Trade” and why is it important? Free Trade is a laissez faire trading system within the global exchange community. These policies articulated the absence of tariffs on imported and exported goods between nations. Free Trade agreements were instituted by the World Trade Organization after the coffee crisis during the early 1990’s after the United States pulled out of the International Coffee Organization trade agreements. Free Trade was established to ensure that more powerful countries such as the U.S. were prohibited from exploiting the developing countries they purchase goods from. However Fair Trade policies are the only policies that in fact enforce these ideals.

                Starbucks, according to the New York Times, “earned 9.4 billion in net revenue for 2007”. However discovered by the recent documentary “BlackGold” on the global exploitation of coffee, less than ten percent of this 9.4 billion net revenue was earned by the farmers that cultivate the actual Starbucks coffee.

                Most Bloomsburg students are quite unaware of where their coffee originates from and who is profiting from their coffee consumption. When Bloomsburg student, Bryan McMasters was informed of Starbucks unethical trading behaviors he was shocked, “I was unaware as most students are that this is occurring”.

Yet this unawareness is quite understandable considering the image that Starbucks projects onto its customers. Starbucks company’s mission statement states six principles they follow to conduct their business. The third principle boasts that they strive to, “contribute positively to our communities and environment”.  What about the global community?

Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon of globalization along with other large corporate U.S. companies. The company currently operates stores in more than 35 countries worldwide.  Some of these stores are located in the impoverished countries the coffee is actually cultivated from. In its 2006 briefing, Oxfam, an international organization united to end poverty and injustice, criticizes Starbucks’s business ethics directly, “Starbucks establishes itself in the very nations it refuses to provide coffee rights to” (Song of the Sirens, 2006 12).

If the fact that Starbucks exploits from coffee farmers internationally hasn’t turned your stomach yet, here’s an idea for you to ponder. The Organic Consumers Organization announced recently that Dunkin’ Donuts has converted all of their coffee products to Free Trade. A small cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts will cost you about one dollar opposed to the exorbitant price of a dollar sixty-five at Starbucks. If Starbucks converts to Fair Trade coffee it will not cause an increase in prices.

  However horrible this coffee company’s ethics are revealed as, the fact remains: Bloomsburg’s students love Starbucks. “I would still go to Starbucks regardless” says Bloomsburg freshman Brenna Cobb. 

“I love Starbucks, I’ve been a customer for a good six years” states another student Catherine Kline. “I go to Starbucks despite its prices.”

 I am in no way advocating the total protest of Starbucks, for I would be a hypocrite being an avid Starbucks drinker myself. But what must be understood is that Starbucks will not concede to Fair Trade policies through its own volition. If you love Starbucks but care about this issue, speak out. The more public pressure Starbucks receives the more likely it will start selling Fair Trade products.

                Currently Starbucks has been tanking nationally in sales. Some of this is attributed to its over-expansion and the company’s business strategy shift from small franchise feel to the more fast-food corporate model. Starbucks could use some cues from the college student demographic. What they do not want and will at all costs try to resolve is bad press. Unethical coffee trade qualifies as bad press. Put the heat on Starbucks and sign the Organic Consumers Organization’s Fair Trade petition for Fair Trade Coffee and learn about their campaign.

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