Starbucks and Fair Trade Coffee

Did you know that you can order Fair Trade Coffee at Starbucks? I sure didn’t.

What is Fair Trade Coffee? It’s essentially coffee (the actual commodity that’s imported and exported en masse from country to country) priced at a “Fair Trade” market price. Fair Trade is — and I’m generalizing here — the belief that the producers of a product deserve an equitable price for their product, hopefully ensuring that they don’t go bankrupt while others profit from their initial work.

One of the biggest criticisms of Starbucks over the years — aside from their rampant expansion — is their lack of cooperation in bringing their buying power of coffee beans to ensure that their growers are being paid a fair wage. Typically most would just chalk this up to corporate greed and the like, but Starbucks actually espouses their “green philosophy” to investors and consumers, which makes their business practices seem not only greedy, but hypocritical. The hypocrisy is seen in the fact that they:

  1. Don’t advertise the fact that one can get Fair Trade coffee at their locations.
  2. Haven’t effectively communicated their ideas well enough to the franchise level, ensuring that one can order a cup o’ Fair Trade without a Barrista giving you a confused, “what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about” look.
  3. Fair Trade coffee is prepared only in French pressed style
  4. It’s offered only in Venti size…
  5. …which means Venti Prices only.
  6. On average, it takes ten minutes to make French pressed coffee at their locations.

As you can see, Starbucks doesn’t really go out of their way to provide the Fair Trade coffee they make available.

City Hippy, noticing said hypocrisy, has decided to do something about it. They’ve issued the Starbucks Challenge, with the simple premise of “If a company makes a promise, it should stick to it”. The Challenge? Ask for a cup of Fair Trade coffee at your local Starbucks and post the results online. Bloggers write about it in your blog and tag the link “starbuckschallenge” at, non-bloggers can email either or LA Girl is the US representative of this project, and one should contact her if you have any further questions.

So, if your consumer decisions are based off the philosophy of ethical purchasing, then you may want to ask the barrista at your local caffeine shack for that specific blend. Nothing drives the market demand for a product better than when the market actually demands the product.

via Seattlest

UPDATE: Bruce e-mails to let me know that my facts are a bit off. Here is his response:

Sorry Kate but I feel compelled to clear up some of this misinformation.

  1. Starbucks doesnt do alot of advertising but they did send out press releases advertising the fact that October is Fair Trade month and they’ll be brewing fair trade cafe estima ( i put the link to this in my site URL box) And starbucks will periodically brew this during certain weeks.
  2. Starbucks doesnt do Franchises. The ones in Target, Barnes & Noble, Grocery Stores and Airports are licensed to those particular companies those. As far as the communication goes I think that varies store to store depending on the manager and how well they communicate operations to the team. And there is always going to be a few partners who only work 4 hours a week and are out of the loop, or are lazy, new, or are just plain oblivious, but that’s not the norm.
  3. As shown above Fair Trade is not only brewed in French Press. It will usually be brewed as coffee of the day at least one week a month.
  4. If it’s not during the morning rush it only takes 5 minutes to brew a french press.
  5. I agree we should have more organic and fair trade options that are avilable and brewed every day and I don’t think it will be too long before that comes to pass as the shareholders voted last year to work on increasing the purchase of Organic/Fair trade to like 50% of beans purchased by 2010, i think? memory fails me. As far as ethical purchasing goes, I am very proud to work for a company that is so socially responsible. On average they pay 60% more than the market price for the going rate on Arabica beans. Starbucks has a purchasing system that rewards and gives incentive for farmers that score high on the criteria which include among other things environmental and socially responsible guidelines. You can find out more here

Mea culpa Bruce. Some of the information I read from the links above were incorrect. I’m planning a trip to the local Starbucks this weekend when I am more mobile.

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