Starbucks and Howard Schultz are in the news again. There were too many emails with links filling inboxes this week. Plenty are getting in on the “easy” story of his support for gay marriage. One continuous news item not seeing much press this week concerning Starbucks and Schultz is their ongoing support of forced, child, contract, bonded, and slave labor. As much as Starbucks talks the talk of fair trade promotion, they simply don’t walk the walk. While Schultz is just another voice in the gay marriage debate, he has a real opportunity to change communities and lives by promoting equitable trade practices and making a huge dent into exploitive labor practices globally.
Don’t buy the confusion of the self-promoted and Starbucks’ developed C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices) standards. While 86% of Starbucks coffee purchases met C.A.F.E. standards in 2011 (their hope is 100% by 2015), less than 10% of their purchases met standard Fair Trade guidelines for the same period. Some third-party groups estimate as low as two percent met standard. The C.A.F.E. standard is a not so novel attempt to rationalize purchasing habits and appease coffee drinkers. It’s the cloak of self-regulation at its best. For a corporation that purchased over 400 million pounds of coffee last year, Starbucks can do better! Why rationalize, compromise, and deceive?
Starbucks entered into a 3 million dollar two-year agreement with Conservation International to promote best coffee growing practices and develop C.A.R.E. standards in 2011. Starbucks has been a key corporate sponsor since 1998 according to Conservation International. I find irony in Starbucks’ claim that this relationship helped to develop standards for socially responsible and sustainably grown coffee. Did you know that Conservation International’s Chairman of the Executive Committee is Rob Walton, Chairman of the Board, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.? When I look for corporate models of social responsibility, Wal-Mart is not on my list. Wal-Mart is well known as a key contributor in shuttering neighboring small businesses. A Chicago Study reveals 25% of competing businesses within one mile close the first year and 40% of competing business close by the second year after Wal-Mart moves into a community. Also known for low wages, 27% of Wal-Mart Associates’ children receive benefits through public-assistance programs such as Medicaid. And, this is Starbucks’ partnership in promoting equitable trade practices for farmers and workers? Go figure!
Think of it this way. Those of us who have patronized Starbucks, a fraction of a percentage point of my purchase goes to fund Schultz’s corporate social agenda of perceived diversity – more specifically gay marriage. By the way, he’s not the only one that’s thrown his hat into the ring as have many other major and mainstream American corporations such as AT&T. That percentage pales drastically in contrast to a significant portion of my purchase potentially encouraging exploitive labor practices including forced, slave, contract, bonded, and child labor. The gay marriage debate is going to linger for some time. It’ll never be settled as long as there are people who embrace a Biblical Worldview. But for Howard Schultz, he could make a real difference in the lives of so many people who don’t have a voice by working tirelessly to support authentic fair trade. He has the ability in many regions of the world to put a huge dent or even eliminate forced, child, contract, bonded, and slave labor. This is the cause for which to take a stand.