Tag Archives: Fair-trade

Wal-Mart to expand sales of Fair Trade Coffee?

My gripes with Wal-Mart aside, if they do expand their use Fair Trade coffee, it will bring the Fair Trade movement to the forefront, which is very much a good thing.

But make no bones about it, this isn’t as much about paying a fair price to farmers as it is about, well, undercutting the prices of their current supplier of coffee, Millstone (owned by Proctor and Gamble):

Sam’s Club already was selling fair-trade coffee from Millstone Coffee but wanted to work directly with Bom Dia to create a new line that could undercut the prices of the big names, controlling a supply chain from the ground up.

Regardless of how they got there, they got there. So with this, along with their recent foray into organic foods, it certainly makes Wal-mart worth watching.

Now if they could address the other issues surrounding their practices, too numerous to mention here, I might actually shop there.

Aw…who am I kidding? I’m still not going to shop there.

tags technorati : Fair Trade Coffee Wal-Mart

We Get Letters v. 22: Starbucks Responds to Fair Trade

Again, not so much an e-mail, than a comment left on a post.

Dan, from Starbucks, left the following comment on this article talking about my experiences taking the Starbucks Challenge:

Author: dan [Visitor]
Type: comment
IP address:

couple questions. 1. do we all hate Starbucks because there so big? Cause i live in seattle and vaguely remember when there was 5 stores total. 2. because there a business who makes money? I’m just curious. I do wonder though when it comes to “Fair Trade” does anyone know what it truly means? I did some research and there is no room for little farmers in that organization. I also looked up Starbucks who has there own set of rules of buying coffee, and low and behold last year paid higher prices for most of their coffee then Fair Trade had set. I think it’s time to stop kicking Starbucks because they have done something right. just my thoughts…

To answer your questions Dan, I don’t think everyone hates Starbucks. Their sales figures and growth are fairly indicative of their popularity. I’m surprised you don’t know that considering the information provided to you at your work place.

As for your second question…I presume you meant that as “Do we all hate Starbucks because they are a business who makes money?”

Personally I don’t begrudge any company or corporation who makes money as long as they:

  1. Ensure the sustainability of resources required to make their products and the environment in which the resources are acquired.
  2. Ensure the health and/or well being of the producers of their products by providing a living wage and health coverage (if health coverage is not covered by the State).
  3. Ensure the well being of their consumers by providing a product that brings some level of satisfaction.
  4. Do not do anything that would betray the consumer’s trust of their product.

So, how do these standards apply to Starbucks and Fair Trade Coffee? Well first one should know the what Fair Trade Coffee is supposed to do. I realize that as you work for Starbucks, you probably have a good amount of familiarity with the issue, but for those who don’t, here’s a quick definition.

Fair Trade certification guarantees that a minimum price* of $1.26 per pound ($1.41 per pound for organic) was paid to the farmer cooperative that produced the coffee. Certification also requires criteria be met by coffee cooperatives, including fair labor conditions, freedom of association and certain environmental standards. To be certified as Fair Trade, the coffee can only be grown by small-holder farmers who belong to farmer-owned, democratically run coffee cooperatives listed on the Fair Trade registry. An estimated three percent of the world’s coffee farmers participate in the Fair Trade system.

The phrase “the coffee can only be grown by small-holder farmers who belong to farmer-owned, democratically run coffee cooperatives listed on the Fair Trade registry.” runs contrary to your own statement that “there is no room for little farmers in that organization.” This surprises me that you do not know this, as the above definition comes from Starbuck’s own Corporate Social Responsibility 2005 Annual Report (.pdf file).

But back to the main point: Why do people hate Starbucks? Again, hate is a strong word, but I suppose some people are uncomfortable with how Starbucks treats the Fair Trade coffees at the various worldwide locations. One of the reasons is that only 3.5% of their coffee purchases were from the Fair Trade producers. The rest (or 96.5% if you will) come from distributors, some of whom provide economic transparency, and some (to the tune of 41%) who do not.

For those of you playing at home “Economic transparency” is a business practice that requires entities to provide information on who gets what moneys throughout the wholesale transaction of commodities. It’s one way to see how much middle men are paying the coffee farmers.

This 3.5% conflicts with what Greg Wendt has reported when a couple Starbucks reps claimed in a speech at the SRI in the Rockies conference last September that all of Starbucks coffee is fairly traded. Note the wording there to muddy the waters surrounding “Fair Trade” Coffee, because this is key on why some people are uncomfortable with Starbucks.

The Second aspect is that it’s so damn hard to order Fair Trade Coffee at the various locations. If you ask for Fair Trade, and it’s not their brew of the week/day, they’ll tell you so. If you ask again, they’ll tell you it will take 5-10 minutes to provide a French Press version of the brew.

This part is important as their responses give the impression that they are trying to dissuade a customer from ordering Fair Trade Coffee. Even Starbucks themselves admitted that there’s been a problem in communicating Fair Trade availability to their stores. It is this behavior that lead to the Starbucks Challenges of the fall and winter of 2005-2006.

There is no doubt the Starbucks would enjoy the popular PR buzz claiming that they are eco and farmer friendly. In some aspects of their business, they are. But all too often they take credit for good deeds yet to be done, while elsewhere in their corporation there are entities putting the advancements that have been made at risk.

Dan, this is why some people have problems with your company. Remember that list of four items up above? Starbucks has partial problems with #2 and definitive problems with #4. Somehow, they need to address these issues. They are certainly saying the right things. Now all they need is to do them. Only then will they earn most people’s trust.

Finally Dan, please note that when you leave a comment on this site, I get a copy of it in my e-mail. This e-mail tells me that although you did not provide a Starbucks e-mail address in the comments, the IP address from which the comment originated indicates that you wrote the comment from a computer address at the Starbucks headquarters, indicating that you work for the company. Don’t you think this tidbit of information would be important to know for those folks reading that thread? While I applaud you for your loyalty and sticking up for the company you work for, I have to shake my finger at you for not disclosing your ties to Starbucks.

Tsk Tsk.

(NOTE: Many thanks to City Hippy and Green LA Girl for all of their work on the Starbucks Challenge, and for trying to keep the mermaid honest.)

Technorati Tags: Drink, Coffee, Starbucks, Starbucks Challenge

Why I love the Internet – Pt. 5,671

Remember the Starbucks Challenge that I posted about here on a couple of occasions?

Seems like a fella’ with a wee bit of smarts collected comments with del.icio.us tags, and created an interactive map for all of us to review each incident individually.

The map, as he writes, “summarizes the results of the Starbucks Challenge – initiated by green LA girl and CityHippy to check Starbucks‘ promises regarding Fair Trade Coffee.”

Technorati Tags: Starbucks Challenge, Google Maps

Starbucks Challenge: Update

About a month ago, I first posted upon Green LA Girl’s Starbuck’s challenge. One of the goals of the challenge was to show the distance between what the Starbuck’s Corporation said in regard to Free Fair-Trade coffee, and what was really happening at their locations. The realities between what was said and what was done were a tad different on some occaissions, vastly different in many others.

For the record, this is what Starbucks promises:

Starbucks company-operated stores in North America feature Café Estima Blend™, a Fair Trade Certified™ coffee as Coffee of the Week on a quarterly or more frequent basis. Café Estima Blend™ is always available by the cup upon request in Starbucks North America retail stores.

Emphasis mine.

At any rate, LA Girl recently posted her own update of what this movement has acheived.

1. Starbucks admitted that there IS a problem: a break down in customer service.

2. Starbucks sent out a bunch of emails to take care of the problem — which totally worked for the Starbucks in Singapore, but not for most of the US Starbucks — especially many in LA.

3. Starbucks admitted the emails, sadly, were not doing the job, and said they’ll set up, before the end of the month, a meeting between me (and hopefully some other bloggers), Starbucks CSR reps, and district managers in the LA area.

4. [*NEW*] By May 2006, Starbucks will include a lil video in its “new partner learning program” that’ll reiterate Starbucks’ policy to provide customers with a French press — including Cafe Estima, Starbucks’ lone fair trade certified blend sold in stores. This means new baristas will be officially taught about Starbucks French-press-on-demand policy through a video during their first few weeks of work!

Kudos to LA Green Girl and everyone who has taken the Starbucks Challenge. It’s heartening to see things like this succeed get the attention of the larger corporations.

UPDATED: Fixed a crucial typo and changed the wording to better reflect LA Green Girl’s POV that she left in the comments.

This’ll teach me to post after downing a bottle of cough syrup.

Technorati Tags: Food & Drink, Coffee, Starbucks Challenge, Starbucks, Free Trade Coffee

Starbucks Challenge: A Report

Both Tara and I took the Starbucks challenge (which we talked about last week) and report no problems in getting Fair Trade Coffee.

From Tara:

One Union Square Starbucks, reportedly one of the busiest in Seattle

Me: I’ll have a cup of fair trade coffee please.

Cashier:  *doesn’t bat an eyelash*  What size?

Me: Tall, please (fully expecting the cashier to tell me they only sell fair trade in Venti size)

Cashier: Would you like room for cream?

Me: Yes, please.

Cashier:  *grabs a tall cup (again without batting an eyelash), marks it, sets it aside*

Barista:  *grabs the cup, takes it to a large, drip coffee dispenser* 

Me: What is fair trade coffee, anyway?

Barista:  *filling the cup*  It’s coffee that’s sold at a set price to benefit the growers.

Me: Dig that. Do you keep some brewed all the time here?

Barista:  *handing me the cup*  Most of the time, yeah.

Me: Kew. Thank you.

With a little cream the coffee was fairly tasty, too.

Tara purchased hers while Estema (Starbucks Fairtrade grind) was the coffee of the week. I, on the other hand, was not so lucky.

Kate: Hi! I’d like some of your Fair-Trade coffee.

Barista: Pardon?

Kate: Your Fair-Trade. Can I have a cup?

Barista: I’m sorry, it was last week.

Kate: So you can’t brew any today.

Barista: Well, I can. It’ll take four minutes to do so.

Kate: That’s fine.

Barista: It’ll be French Press.

Kate: Okay.

Barista: All right. That’s $1.59.

The rest of the transaction went off with no problems. The brew itself is pretty good. A little bitter, and a tad chocolately. Color me very pleased.

But it’s still a shame that Starbucks doesn’t go out of their way to integrate any Fair Trade grinds into their daily lattes. Considering that there’s a fairly successful coffee shop here in Seattle that does do this (that’d be Caffe Ladro, to those of you not in the Puget Sound area), they can’t say that it’s an unproven business practice.

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 del.icio.us, non-bloggers can email either cityhippy@gmail.com or greenlagirl@gmail.com.Green 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.