Is Starbucks Profiting From Free Trade or Free Market?

Posted on December 13, 2011 by


By: dreamerjess147
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am a Starbucks junkie. I like my coffee with lots of milk, sugar, and cinnamon. The taste of a Pumpkin Spice Latte on a cold November morning when I have an 8:30 AM class, is heavenly to me. And I always thought that I was benefiting growers and helping to conserve the environment by buying my sweet treat at Starbucks.

This caused me to be extremely surprised when I overheard one of my professors say, in passing, that Starbucks was not a socially just company. I thought she disliked it because it was a conglomerate that put the independent coffee shops out of business. If people prefer Starbucks (which the long lines there lead me to believe), why stop it? It’s a free market, I reasoned. Yet I knew my professor was an intelligent woman, someone who wouldn’t condemn an entire company without solid evidence of wrongdoing. So I decided to investigate.

A quick Google search showed me there was a lot of conflict about Starbucks’ practices and whether they were ethical. Although Starbucks claims it uses fair trade and organic coffee, the Organic Consumers Association states that in America, Fair Trade organization coffee accounts for less than 1% of their sales. Why is this? Sources assert it’s because the Fair Trade certified company doesn’t produce enough beans for Starbucks’ high consumption rates, and that Starbucks uses C.A.F.E. Practices evaluations by a third party to make sure its coffee is sustainably grown and processed.
If all this information is overwhelming, there is a blog that explains it very well (although it openly supports Starbucks, so it may not be a perfectly reliable source).

Many think that if the company can manage using 100% fair trade espresso in the U.K. and Ireland, then it should either do so everywhere, or have an unbiased third party explain why it can’t. But before consumers punish Starbucks for not using fair trade practices, we should at least let them know it’s an issue. If you believe Starbucks needs to use 100% fair trade coffee in the U.S.A, you can sign this petition. In the meantime, I encourage all WTF! readers to decide for themselves whether a large corporation can also be socially just.

Do I believe a large corporation can use ethical practices? I’m not sure. In the end, my faith in humanity leads me to say “yes”. Yes, Starbucks—and companies like it—can be fair.