Fair Trade Premium Product: Environmental Impact of Starbucks Coffee Production

Josh Burgner

Starbucks Coffee, Social Impact, Production

Blog #4

Social responsibility, fair trade, people before profit, premium product, and fair treatment of suppliers are probably not terms people most often affiliate with large corporations like Starbucks. But, once you look into the practices of this coffee giant you can see that these all actually play a large role in how Starbucks runs its company. So why look into Starbucks? Simply put, because we drink their coffee. PLNU recently switched to serving Seattle’s Best coffee in the cafeteria while still serving Starbucks Bobby B’s and in catering. Also, unknown to me originally, Starbucks actually owns Seattle’s Best. Very little can be found on Seattle’s best but Starbucks has had many things written about it and produced by them. Coffee is a staple part of many college students lives and for that reason it is important to focus on where it comes from.

In an article written in 2000 by Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at Dartmouth University, entitled Collaborating with Activists: How Starbucks Works With NGOs, Argenti looks into how Starbucks moved into the supplying Fair Trade Coffee and the social pressures that pushed it that way. Revealed in this article, Starbucks did not start selling Fair Trade on its own accord, but rather because of pressure put on it by the NGO Global Exchange. According to Argenti, Global Exchange targeted Starbucks because of its brand recognition, size, U.S. based operations, and because they believed that Starbucks claimed to be acting with social responsibility but could not actually back up that claim. Argenti says in that “Starbucks struggled with how to integrate Fair Trade certified coffee, while remaining focused on its strategy to offer high-quality coffee at a premium price as well as its mission to be socially responsible.” The issue was that Starbucks worried they would be unable to find the high quality product they desired while being able to certify source as Fair Trade. Argenti points out that in year 2000 Starbucks was already paying about $1.20 per pound of coffee purchased as compared to the market price of $.64, and only $.06 less than the Fair Market price. The issue was not the extra $.06 that Starbucks would pay but rather the cost accrued from finding new suppliers without a promise of maintaining their quality and brand. Eventually Starbucks agreed to sell Fair Trade products for a year and followed by a reevaluation of whether to continue or not. This decision allowed for Starbucks to appease Global Exchange and forgo the possibility of an aggressive national campaign against them by Global Exchange.

Along with selling Fair Trade Coffee, Starbucks has also worked with Conservation International (CI) to come up with C.A.F.E practices. The goals and progress of these practices can be seen in the Global Responsibility Report produced by Starbucks. Starbucks is on track with reaching a goal ensuring that 100% of their coffee is ethically sourced. As seen in the report, in 2013 Starbucks sourced 95% of its coffee ethically. This means that 95% of its coffee has met the C.A.F.E standards, was Fair Trade certified, or considered ethically sourced by another third-party audit. As seen in their responsibility report, Starbucks does not only focus on ensuring the coffee farmers are paid enough and that they are not destroying the environment, but also focus on providing farmer support through investing in communities and loans to farmers that led ultimately lead to better prices and long-term production.

The reality is that no matter what Starbucks does to ensure quality of product and ethics of sourcing, some people will find flaws in it. This is what Global Exchange did when they threatened to move against Starbucks, and this is what Kelsey Timmerman wrote about in his article titled Follow your labels: Starbucks coffee farmers who never heard of Starbucks. Timmerman set out to see if the farmers that Starbucks used actually benefited from the C.A.F.E practices and what impact it had on them. Timmerman set out to Columbia in an attempt to talk directly with farmers and producers and ask about the C.A.F.E standards Starbucks boasts of. According to Timmerman no one really knew much about the practices and were not benefiting from this certification. One worker even said “certification is a business, for most people. You sell more coffee if you have a particular logo.” Based on Timmerman’s experience one may be led to believe that Starbucks has lied and is not having the impact they claim to have. But, what is important to note is that this is one persons experience and writing. There is a plethora of information that leads to a vastly different conclusion.

Starbucks is indeed a large corporation, but they also are one that stresses to mitigate their negative impact and increase the positive impact they are having. Through their support of Fair Trade, C.A.F.E practices, and other forms of ethical sourcing, Starbucks can act as a leading voice in supplying not only premium product, but also having a positive social impact while operating a multi billion dollar company.

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Fair Trade Premium Product: Environmental Impact of Starbucks Coffee Production

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