Starbucks Promises to Sell “Fair Trade” Coffee

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As thousands of protesters were planning to descend upon a Starbucks this Thursday all over the country to protest Starbucks’ unfair treatment of coffee growers, the coffee giant has announced that it will begin selling “fair trade” coffee. The protesters are part of an organized series of protests this week against World Bank-IMF policies. [includes rush transcript]

Preempting the scheduled protests led by the human rights organization Global Exchange and reacting to growing pressure from activists, Starbucks said it will sell coffee stamped by the non profit organization TransFair USA, which signifies that the coffee is grown under safe working conditions and sold directly to retailers.


  • Medea Benjamin, co-director of Global Exchange who is running for U.S. Senate in California, explains their campaign.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people yesterday kicked off a weeklong series of protests in Washington, D.C., forming a chain around the Capitol and calling for a cancellation of the debt.

Before we go to excerpts of those speeches, though, as thousands of protesters were planning to descend on Starbucks throughout the country this Thursday to protest their unfair treatment of coffee growers, the coffee giant has announced it will begin selling “fair trade” coffee. Preempting the scheduled protests led by the human rights group Global Exchange and reacting to the pressure from activists, Starbucks said it will sell coffee stamped by the non-profit group TransFair USA.

Medea Benjamin, co-director of Global Exchange, who is running for the US Senate against Dianne Feinstein in California, was in New York this weekend for a major anti-sweatshop conference, and she explained the significance of Starbucks’s move.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, in a major concession to the protest movement against Starbucks selling sweatshop coffee, Starbucks has just announced that they will buy fair trade certified coffee and make it available in all of their over 2,000 stores as a choice for consumers.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by “fair trade” coffee?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, there is an organization called TransFair, started in Europe and has in the last year come to the United States, that certifies coffee as “fair trade,” which means that the farmers are guaranteed $1.26 a pound, which would be the equivalent of a living wage for farmers. It takes out the intermediary, and it also guarantees low-income credit and many other benefits for farmers. And then there’s a monitoring system set up to make sure that these are really taking place on the ground. So you get coffee, if you buy whole beans, for example, in the package that you get, there will be a label, the TransFair label, guaranteeing that that’s fair trade coffee.

AMY GOODMAN: And where will this coffee come from?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: This coffee comes from all over. A lot of it is coming from Central America, a lot of it comes from Mexico, from the Oaxaca region. There’s about 200,000 farmers that participate in this fair trade coffee. This is the largest purchase of fair trade coffee ever in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the vast majority of the coffee Starbucks sells? What do you mean by “It’s sweatshop coffee?”

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the coffee that is not fair trade certified, we have no way of knowing what the conditions are for farmers, and the conditions tend to be very bad. Either they are getting low wages working on plantations, or if they are individual coffee farmers, they tend to get about forty cents a pound for their coffee. When it’s fair trade certified, you’re buying from small farmers, which is also ecologically positive, because they’re not using the kind of massive pesticides you use on the plantations, and they’re guaranteed $1.26 a pound.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Seattle had an influence on Starbucks, where it’s based?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Tremendous. I think Seattle had an influence. I think all the sweatshop campaigns had an influence. I think the fact — the most important thing was that Global Exchange on April 13th was launching a national campaign against Starbucks. We had twenty-five cities already set up across the country. We were all excited — and people are excited in this campaign, and Starbucks kept getting all the materials, seeing how big this movement was getting against them, and they capitulated before we even had our first massive demonstrations.

AMY GOODMAN: Will this be coffee you can get in the stores, or is it the bagged coffee?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is the bagged coffee, and we are pushing them to also make it brewed coffee. But I should say that we negotiated with Starbucks for a long time, pushing them to buy the fair trade coffee. It wasn’t until post-Seattle, going to their shareholder meeting about six weeks ago and shaming them in front of 1,500 shareholders and organizing these massive protests for April 13, that they finally capitulated.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you shame them?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Oh, stood up in front of their shareholders and said, “If you don’t buy fair trade coffee soon, you will become known, as Nike has, as the purveyors, in this case, of sweatshop coffee.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, co-director of Global Exchange, running for the US Senate in California. Again, Starbucks has agreed to buy some fair trade coffee. It will be labeled “TransFair,” a seal on bags of coffee, but it’s not yet the brewed coffee that is served around the country in Starbucks stores.

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