Tuesday, February 5, 2008
To Starbucks or Not to Starbucks
I just heard something that piqued my curiosity on another friends blog. The woman on the video briefly spoke about Starbucks and their strained relationship with the country of Ethiopia (the true birthplace of coffee). She mentioned the extremely low amount Starbucks pays the Ethiopian farmers per pound and then how much they charge us for the coffee (one specific Ethiopian brew sells for $26 per pound in the US). It is no wonder the country of Ethiopia can't catch a break.
My husband and I are huge coffee drinkers and have spent way too much at our local Starbucks. I have always thought Starbucks to be a globally responsible company that takes their billions made on gourmet coffee sales and gives back. It turns out that I may have been wrong. While Starbucks seems to be taking action to care for the environment (obviously important for their coffee bean business) they do not seem to put the same energy into the care of the people that supply them with their beans (Google Starbucks Ethiopia for a ton of articles and visit Starbucks.com for more info). A cnnmoney.com article says this:
"Last season, that pound of coffee fetched farmers an average price of $1.45. Figuring in the cost of generator fuel, bank interest, labor and transport across Ethiopia's dusty roads, it netted them less than $1. In the U.S., however, that same pound of coffee commands a much higher price: $26 for a bag of Starbucks' roasted Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo."
I have a decent understanding of business and I have no doubt that what Starbucks is doing is completely legal. The question is this... is it ethical? Is this the problem with the world today? Just because it isn't illegal to pay these farmers WAY less than you are making, it isn't necessarily right. Is this the problem with big business? Is it impossible for us to see the people that work in the dry, dusty Ethiopian fields as legitimate people with real flesh and blood families. Do we notice or care that they have children that are starving? Do we care that the people of Ethiopia are no where near getting by? Do we just overlook it because it makes us uncomfortable....... I have felt convicted because I am just as guilty of this as Starbucks.
So what do we do? We can approach this with anger and write nasty letters and stage a boycott that doesn't really make any impact. (This is where I was at yesterday). OR!! We can approach this with a gentle hand and give Starbucks (and other companies like it) a chance to do something revolutionary and start really taking care of the suffering, invisible people of the world. Let's give them the opportunity to change how we do business in the US.
The bottom line is this... I am just as guilty as Starbucks. I rarely think about where my food comes from or where my clothing was made or who made it... This is a call to begin thinking about it. This is a call for us all to take action.