Is Starbucks Really Fair Trade or Are They Just Saying They Are?

There was a huge amount of pressure put on Starbucks for years to carry and brew Fair Trade coffee.  They finally gave into the pressure and started carrying Fair Trade whole bean coffee called “Estima.”  But that’s not brewing and selling primarily Fair Trade coffee, now is it?

I was in the Green Hills Starbucks (in Nashville) last week and asked the guy behind the counter:  “Can I get Fair Trade, organic coffee already brewed?”  His reply floored me:  “Not together you can’t.  We don’t sell both organic and Fair Trade together.  You can have one or the other…but we’re out.”  Weird how my friends (in many different states) decided to see if I was crazy when I say “they ALWAYS say they just ran out!”  So a bunch of them tested me on it and sure enough, they ALL got the same “we just ran out line.”

Ummmmm, so I can choose between toxic chemicals or slave wage coffee ‘cuz Starbucks is always mysteriously out when you request fresh brewed?  Yuck.

Well, when I read the Starbuck’s site, it would seem that they are leading the charge in the Fair Trade /Organic / Sustainable coffee market and that 84% of their coffee is now Fair Trade.   But I suspect they’re “sort of” lying…which means I don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not and it really bugs me!

I’ve noticed a trend in big companies…they use Fair Trade and Sustainable interchangeably…and I personally suspect that is smoke and mirrors, folks. If 99% of the world’s coffee is NOT Fair Trade…then are the “sustainable” farmers Starbucks talks about ACTUALLY getting fair wages and prices for their crops?

By the same token, if farmer’s in developing countries are pressured into using sustainable farming practices…which is probably more expensive for them (but maybe not — petrochemicals and toxic pesticides are actually quite expensive) but don’t get fair prices…will they continue these practices?

Fair Trade means the  farmers are paid a fair living wage for the coffee they grow. Sustainable means farming practices that are good for the environment…but doesn’t mean that farmers who use these practices get a fair price for what they produce!

I’ve come up with something in my head that makes sense to me…”Save the People, Save the Planet.”  PEOPLE are the ones hurting the planet and some are doing so because they see no other way to support their hungry children (and I would do anything for my child as I’m sure you would too.)  So if that means cutting down the rainforest because people will buy the wood, then cut they will.

BUT if you work on saving the people and providing fair prices and allow them the dignity of earning a fair living…then they will work to save precious resources too.  I mean seriously, does anybody THINK that people in poor countries WANT to wipe out the planet we all share?  Of course they don’t!  But they want to feed their kids too and a hungry baby’s cries are more immediate then a desert forming where a lush tropical jungle once stood.

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