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Any Starbucks in the US (and 22 other

Any Starbucks in the US (and 22 other countries) is supposed to sell you a cup of fair trade coffee if you ask them to. The Starbucks Challenge is motivating people to take them up on their offer. You can track people’s progress or join in the fun yourself.

Reader comments

wOct 25, 2005 at 9:01AM

Maybe I'm parsing the language in the "supposed to sell you" PDF differently from you, but the only part that implies that that I can see is the following:

In addition, Fair Trade Certified coffee has been promoted by Starbucks as a brewed "Coffee of the Week" and can be brewed by coffee press during store hours upon customer request.

"can be brewed" != "will be brewed"

DovOct 25, 2005 at 9:36AM

Who really makes money from fair trade coffee? I just read a pertinent article about Fair Trade coffee in The Financial Times last weekend. Excerpt:

Costa, like most other coffee bars these days, offers 'Fair Trade' coffee - theirs comes from a leading fair trade brand called Cafedirect. Cafedirect promises to offer good prices to coffee farmers in poor countries. Fair trade coffee associations make a promise to the producer, not the consumer. If you buy fair trade coffee, you are guaranteed that the producer will receive a good price. But there is no guarantee that you will receive a good price. For several years, customers who wished to support third-world farmers - and such customers are apparently not uncommon in London - were charged an extra 10p. They may have believed that the 10p went to the struggling coffee farmer. Almost none of it did.

Cafedirect paid farmers a premium of between 40p and 55p per pound of coffee, and that premium was reflected in the price they charged to Costa. That relatively small premium can nearly double the income of a farmer in Guatemala, where the average income is less that $2,000 a year. But since the typical cappuccino is made with just a quarter-ounce of coffee beans, the premium paid to the farmer should translate into a cost increase of less than a penny a cup.

Of the extra money that Costa charged, more than 90 per cent did not reach the farmer. Cafedirect did not benefit, so unless using the fair trade coffee somehow increased Costa' costs hugely, the money was being added to profits. The truth is that fair trade coffee wholesalers could pay two, three or sometimes four times the market price for coffee in the developing world without adding anything noticeable to the production cost of a cappuccino. Because coffee beans make up such a small proportion of that cost customers might have concluded that the extra 10p was to cover the cost of the fair trade coffee, but they would have been wrong. A certain Undercover Economist made some inquiries and found that Costa worked out that the whole business gave the wrong impression, and at the end of 2004 began to offer fair trade coffee on request, without a price premium.

But why had it been profitable to charge a higher mark-up on fair trade coffee than on normal coffee? Because fair trade coffee allowed Costa to find customers who were willing to pay a bit more if given a reason to do so. By ordering a fair trade cappuccino, you sent two messages to Costa. The first was: 'I think that fair trade coffee is a product that should be supported.' The second was: 'I don't really mind paying a bit extra.' Socially concerned citizens tend to be less careful with their cash in coffee bars, while unconcerned citizens tend to keep their eyes on the price. Perhaps another price list saying, 'Cappuccino for the concerned £1.85. Cappuccino for the unconcerned £1.75'?

More at:

BethOct 25, 2005 at 10:00AM

Starbucks idea of fair trade involves exploiting prison labor. Count me out.

paul haineOct 25, 2005 at 11:21AM

"You can track people's progress or join in the fun yourself."

Or you can buy your coffee from somewhere that, oh, I don't know, sells good coffee instead.

green LA girlOct 25, 2005 at 11:56AM

Hey guys -- Thanks for joining in, sort of :) Yes -- the PDF sounds a lil iffy, but Starbucks' CSR department has, indeed, confirmed that fair trade coffee should be offered per customer request.

Dov -- V. important concern you're bringing up here. Companies trying to cash in on the fair trade or organic movement have often jacked up prices on socio-eco friendly stuff -- from coffee to bananas. As for Starbucks though, their fair trade blend sells at $9.99 an lb, which is at the low end of the price range for their bagged coffees -- and fair trade coffee by the cup shouldn't cost any more either, according to their corp policy :)

Beth -- Too true about the prison labor:

And Paul -- We're giving away really yummy (not Starbucks ;) coffee as a prize in the challenge. Hope you'll join in --

City HippyOct 25, 2005 at 12:51PM

Thanks for the nod Jason...

Love the comments what it is all about...

Dov: agree with gLAg on this
Beth: did not know that...gonna look into that more myself. Thanks.
Paul: hahahaha indeed.



SarahOct 25, 2005 at 2:33PM

The Starbucks in my neighbourhood (in Canada) claims that ALL their coffee is fair trade, because they pay some minimum "fair" price for all their beans.

I can't find any press about Canadian Starbucks' fair trade policies since they made it an option in 2002. I wonder if this is just what they tell their employees and customers.

ddOct 25, 2005 at 3:54PM

So... are they trying to catch starbucks not making Fair Trade coffee available? Also, it seems like most people on that "track their progress" link are just...linking to the original story.

I haven't read anyone that had any type of problem getting the coffee if they asked for it. Seems like a false alarm.

green LA girlOct 25, 2005 at 5:10PM

Jeez, dd -- I think YOU're the one with the conspiracy theories ;) We're not trying to "catch" Starbucks -- We're just seeing what develops. Plus, it's a great way of letting people know that Starbucks has such a great fair trade policy -- one that most customers don't know about :) We're spreading the word. Even Starbucks has said they like the challenge (see my blog for deets on that).

I'm working on putting up the links as fast as possible -- It's the last week of the challenge before prizes are awarded, so the tagging job's gotten a lil crazy. Cuz it's easier to put up the "another blogger joins" tags than the actual challenge tags, which require figuring out the location of the store and stuff, I'm doing the former first. But I'm getting to those, hopefully before 3 pm :)

Matthew BroganOct 25, 2005 at 8:27PM

I'm an actor in NYC and I actually work for Starbucks (at b'way and bond st.)... We haven't been told about any corporate promotion like this, but we have a few coffees that are certified fair trade. While all of the choices aren't "certified", they do claim to be very fair with every coffee type (maybe not based on the "fair trade" standard, but in Starbuck's own community building, charity, environmental policy where the coffee is grown).

But it's true, if you ask for it we'll French Press it for you. In fact, we'll do this with any coffee type you ask for. It takes 4:00 min to press and could take longer depending on the rush, but if you want it you can have it for the same price as our daily drip (fair trade obviously included).

Starbucks get all kind of heat and I don't care much about that debate, I've only worked there for two months... and I have no opinion on them other than they treat their employees better than say working at McDonallds or the Gap (very cheep health care plans, we got a $0.25 regional wage to $8.50/hr in NYC). I DO like their coffee a lot, but it's a personal taste. That said I would never pay $4.00 for a small chai tea latte...

Matthew BroganOct 25, 2005 at 8:29PM

just to add, someone did come in today and ask for Fair Trade.. I wonder if it was anyone who heard about this (b/c no one ever asks). at first the new girl at the register did say we only have what we brew, but then another partner jumped in to say we can press it if they wanted. I don't think they ended up getting it, but just fyi...

minxljOct 26, 2005 at 7:49AM

My local Starbucks (Newcastle, England) always has fair trade coffee available and I always hear people asking for it; it seems to be the same price as the other coffees. However, I don't like coffee, so I only ever drink hot chocolate when I'm in there :-) I'll ask them to start selling fair trade hot chocolate.

David SingletonOct 26, 2005 at 9:18AM

Being in China on business I tried asking for fair trade coffee in the Beijing Ascott Starbucks (fair trade is 公平贸易 "gong ping mao yi" ) since that document claimed China was one of the 22 countries. Guess what? "It's not available in Beijing".

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.