Starbucks gets big on Fairtrade

Starbucks gets big on Fairtrade

As Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 is upon us (Feb 22nd - March 7th 2010), one of the easiest Fairtrade products to identify on the high street is coffee. As of September 2009, coffee chain Starbucks has been using 100% Fairtrade Certified verified coffee in all of their espresso-based drinks across the UK. Taste preference aside, this is an important step towards making people aware of the positive effect buying Fairtrade has on coffee producers.

Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation UK, is excited about this latest development: *“Starbucks is really setting the pace for the coffee industry by using its global size for good. This move will expand the reach of Fairtrade and deepen its impact on tens of thousands of farmers who are at the very heart of the Fairtrade system.”*

Figures from 2008 estimated that £137.3m was spent on Fairtrade coffee in the UK, (a figure that has increased steadily since the introduction of the Fairtrade Certification in 1992). Today surveys estimate that 70% of the UK’s population recognise the Fairtrade mark and 64% have an understanding that it means a better deal for producers in the developing world. Starbucks coffee is sourced largely from Latin America countries, including Costa Rica, Peru and Guatemala, where a fairer price for producers and fairer wages for pickers has a trickle-down effect on the whole community. Guaranteed minimum prices and premiums for Fairtrade coffee allow organisations to plan environmental and social programmes within communities, with a degree of confidence and security.

Whilst Starbucks gets plenty of press as a global giant-of-a-brand, the sheer size of this drinks company has a plus side too. Starbucks has huge purchasing power, and is currently the largest buyer of Fairtrade coffee in the world. Astonishingly however, only 3% of the world's coffee beans are purchased by Starbucks. The lion share of the world's coffee beans are bought by those well-known high street instant coffee brands, for freeze-drying or spray-drying into coffee granules. Approximately 15% of the world's coffee production is termed as specialist, i.e. geared towards high street coffee house chains. Starbucks' latest Fairtrade move is a step in the right direction.

This move hasn't been applied to their US coffee shops, and Fairtrade certification runs the risk of being lost in Atlantic translation. US consumers aren't quite as eco-minded as their British counterparts, and the awareness of Fairtrade certification still has a long way to go in America. Interestingly, if Starbucks did decide to make the move to use Fairtrade coffee across its entire range globally, there currently aren't enough Fairtrade certified coffee producers in the world to supply that level of demand. There is some frustration for coffee producers when it comes to Fairtrade certication. Whilst many producers strive to produce quality coffee beans with ethical values, some fall short of Fairtrade certification due to the ways in which their farms are managed. The structure and use of cooperatives is something that Starbucks and the Fairtrade Foundation are discussing, in attempt to make certifiction a viable option across the board. For the last decade, Starbucks has worked with Conservation International to draw up an ethical code of conduct that the company uses with each coffee supplier it works with.

Next time you purchase a cup of coffee from Starbucks, you might find that consumer guilt fading a little. Whilst your conscience will love you for it, purchasing a cup of Fairtrade coffee has a notable, practical, and let's face it, more important impact on the lives of coffee producers. Look out for the Fairtrade logo when you buy your coffee ladies & gents.

For information on Starbucks Shared Planet, visit: