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Published on Thursday, April 13, 2000 in the Madison Capital Times
Roasting Starbucks
Does all this boycotting, letter writing, picketing and protesting that activists engage in ever make a difference? Ask Starbucks.

The coffee colossus, which operates more than one fifth of all coffee cafes worldwide -- including a pair of Madison shops -- has for months resisted lobbying by the activist group Global Exchange, which wanted the java merchant to start buying Fair Trade Certified coffee beans.

Fair Trade beans come from 300 cooperatives in 20 countries around the world, where farmers are guaranteed a living wage for their products.

While more than 30 coffee importers and roasters in the U.S. -- including a number of independent cafes in Madison -- had agreed to buy Fair Trade beans, Starbucks refused. That is until this week.

What changed? Global Exchange was set to launch a "Roast Starbucks'' campaign today. The group had planned protests outside 30 Starbucks nationwide, including an action outside the chain's State Street shop. The largest of these actions was set for Washington -- where thousands of labor, environmental and student activists are in town for this week's Mobilization for Global Justice actions to challenge World Bank, International Monetary Fund and U.S. government trade and economic policies.

With the demonstrations looming, Starbucks officials suddenly announced that their 2,300 shops nationwide would begin selling Fair Trade Certified products. Starbucks will pay a minimum of $1.26 a pound to buy beans from wholesalers certified by TransFair USA. The farmers who grow those beans are guaranteed $1 a pound, as opposed to the 30 cents a pound they could otherwise expect to be paid.

"This is a major step in the struggle to assure that small farmers around the world are able to feed their families,'' says Juliette Beck of Global Exchange. "Getting Starbucks to accept Fair Trade products sends a signal to other corporations that it is possible to offer consumers the products we want, while paying farmers the prices they deserve.''

Maybe bringing a little economic justice to the coffee business may not seem like a revolution. But this struggle creates a model that can, and should, be applied to other businesses -- from coffee roasters to athletic wear manufacturers to automobile companies.

Global Exchange will still keep up the pressure on Starbucks, and it is now expanding its campaign to other coffee chains, including Gloria Jean's, which also operates in Madison.

Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin got it precisely right when she said, "People don't want to drink sweatshop coffee, and they don't have to. We can demand better -- for ourselves and for the farmers.''

2000 The Capital Times


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