Starbucks' policy grinds farmers and ignores Fair Trade guidelines

by Mark Maher '08
Saint Joseph's University 

According to their mission statement, Starbucks is committed to "…apply[ing] the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting and fresh delivery of our coffee." Indeed, Starbucks does appear to apply the highest standards when roasting and delivering their coffee. Unfortunately for their farmers, and for any person with some sense of humanity, Starbucks does not apply these same standards to the purchasing of their coffee.

Of course, if one were to ask Starbucks, you would almost believe that they invented fair trade. According to a leaflet available on their website, Starbucks purchased approximately 11.5 million pounds of fair trade coffee, which accounts for 10 percent of all purchased fair-trade coffee.

First, according to their own statement, companies other than Starbucks purchase 90 percent of all fair trade coffee.

Furthermore, fair-trade coffee farmers only produce around two percent of the world's coffee. Therefore, the majority of the coffee you buy at Starbucks comes from providers who are not fair-trade certified. reports that Starbucks claims to pay an average of $1.20/lb., fairly close to the minimum fair-trade average of $1.26/lb. At first glance, it appears as though Starbucks is independently promoting fair wages for farmers, without a fair-trade certification.

However, this is an average number, which takes into account both conventional and organic (traditionally higher priced) coffees. Furthermore, Starbucks does not import their coffee. The $1.20/lb. average is paid to the coffee importers, the middlemen.

Realistically, the average actually paid to the farmers actually comes to about $.80, far below the fair-trade minimum.

A more specific example elucidates Starbucks' record even more clearly. According to, Starbucks charges almost $26/lb. for some of their Ethiopian specialty coffees. However, only about five to ten percent of this price actually goes to the farmers. Ethiopian farmers, very aware of how the global market works, have been campaigning for the right to have their own name attached to the coffee they produce, a move that would give them more leveraging power when selling their coffee. As of yet, Starbucks has not given this right to the farmers.

It is a real shame that a company as large as Starbucks feels the need to pull the wool over its consumers' eyes. Starbucks is nothing without the people who buy their coffee, and it is poor business, in my opinion, for them to mislead those who put food on their plates.

Since Starbucks is apparently unwilling to provide their farmers a fair wage, it is our responsibility as consumers to let them know what we think.

If you think that Starbucks is not living up to the standards that a socially conscious company should, let them know - write letters, call them up. If Starbucks refuses to change, then maybe we should not buy their coffee. There are alternatives here on campus, and elsewhere, that provide fair-trade certified coffee. Starbucks may provide us with coffee, but we provide them with their business.

This was originally posted on February 7, 2007 by the Saint Joseph's University
Campus News Philadephia PA SJUHawknews

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