Monday, August 13, 2007

Is starbucks evil?

I can't get my head around this question. It seems like some people think that starbucks is a bad guy because it's ... contributing to globalization? Not doing enough (or much of anything) to fix up the imbalance between the lifestyles and incomes of the people who ultimately buy the coffee, and the people who actually grow it? Spends more time and dollars on advertising and so forth to make people *think* they are being corporately earthwise, responsible, just, green, ... what have you, than they do actually *doing* those things?

Any of you know about this stuff? I always ask for fair trade coffee when I am at a starbucks. But you do have to ask for it. And if you buy drip, like me, then you have to get the french press. Is fair trade really fair trade anyway? Or is it still bad, but not *as* bad as that which is *not* certified fair trade?

Is there a reasonably clear, reasonably fair primer on this stuff somewhere?


Joe said...

Well, you have several different questions there. If you want to find people to give you reasons why to avoid starbucks, you only have to google 'hate starbucks' to get a lot of hits.

I think it just boils down (excuse the pun) to the fact that they're big, they don't pay people much, and the fairtrade thing is a stinky pile of doodoo when you see how little it is of their total coffee use.

The issues surrounding fairtrade coffee in general are much more complicated. Basically, in a market where the coffee price is very low, the fairtrade premium is obviously worth having and has benefits for those who grow it.

Unfortunately, it has been argued that in the current market where the coffee price is actually increasing, the fairtrade bureaucracy isn't actually helping the farmers very much. The basic reasoning is that speciality products actually have a higher value than the fairtrade products, and fairtrade is only for very low price basic products. So the farmers might actually have a higher value product they could sell.

Anyway. this is one large coffee company who no longer sells fairtrade and the reasons and here is some more general info which might be helpful.

My opinion is that fairtrade is the means not the end. It is much better than many alternatives, but it not good enough in itself.

Joe said...

This is the link that didn't work above:

Sharon said...

I'm guessing this is partly precipitated by my post yesterday so I thought I should respond (especially as wordpress is down and I can't access my blog at the moment anyway!).

No, I don't think Starbucks is evil. It is probably no worse (and probably even somewhat better) than most multinational corporations. However I avoid buying Starbucks (usually!) for a couple of reasons.

Firstly I am concerned that while actively promoting an image of being "corporately earthwise, responsible, just, green" some of thier business practises over recent years have been questionable- for example the Ethiopia issue and labor concerns (although I think many of these have been resolved, Starbucks has historically been resistant to unions).

The second concern is (as you also guessed) a globalisation one. Here in NZ we have a thriving cafe scene with many small independent operators. I think it would be a huge loss if those were lost to a sea of green and white, and would therefore rather spend my money to support them. If I can support a company who sells only Fair Trade, then all the better.

Ironically I went to Starbucks today (not being near my usual coffee shops) and thought I would try asking for fair trade. After giving me a blank look and asking the manager I was finally offered a a drip coffee, not my usual espresso! Tomorrow I'll be back to my usual fair trade "People's Coffee" from the little coffee shop next to my workplace.

Chad Minnick said...

As one who has travelled extensively in Central America and have many poor coffee-growing friends in those regions, I can tell you that the gap between what I pay for coffee in the US and what the grower is paid is increasing.

The idea of fair trade is a good one, but it's not used extensively enough yet. The areas where I have seen it used it has made a big difference in the lives of the small growers.

Down here (I'm in Honduras now) they call the middle-men who buy the coffee from them and prep it for export "coyotes." It's actually the accepted vernacular...not just an aspersion.

Every person along the line makes more money than the grower, including the coffee stand by the side of the road.

I only buy fair trade coffee now. And yes, Starbucks should sell only fair trade certified coffee in their stores. It's not complicated to get certified and they should be doing it anyway.

I would also add they should be growing and buying only shade-grown coffe as well in those areas where deforestation is such a huge problem like it is down here in Central America.

Here's the website of the organization that certifies Fair Trade

Jeff said...

I love it when the comments written are longer than the actual post. I am not a coffee drinker, so I cannot talk about the differences between the quality, but I have always been fascinated by the bucks. Consumers seem to view them as their "local" coffee shop while they seem to have a wal-mart effect with the local shops. (meaning they close, and can't compete with Starbucks long lines and prices).

Do they do enough? Probably not, but we keep forgetting they are a bottom-line company? If there was a demand for fair-trade coffee they would start to serve it more. But then again as stated earlier how fair is fair-trade?