Millions of people around the world step into Starbucks each day to purchase their daily venti nonfat caramel latte and leave $4 poorer. What these eager consumers don’t know is that their latte is more than the daily wage some Central American coffee pickers receive for harvesting 100 pounds of coffee. As the largest specialty coffee retailer in the United States, controlling 20% of the market, what is Starbucks’ role in Fair Trade and ethical buying?

      In 1995, under pressure from the US/Guatemala Labor Education Project, Starbucks drafted the first Code of Conduct for coffee suppliers however they have yet to implement it. Not just in Guatemala, but also worldwide, coffee workers are denied basic labor rights. Starbucks refuses to disclose the locations of the plantations they buy from, making independent monitoring impossible.
      In 1999, Global Exchange approached CEO Howard Schultz with the request that Starbucks offer Fair Trade coffee in all their stores. The company was initially very hesitant, citing concerns that the beans were of low quality. Global Exchange then arranged a series of peaceful demonstrations in front of Starbucks stores.
     In February 2000, an investigative report on San Francisco’s ABC TV affiliate exposed child labor and low
wages on Guatemalan coffee plantations—some of which sell to Starbucks. After another local protest by Global Exchange and a petition, Starbucks announced a one-time shipment of 75,000 pounds of Fair Trade Coffee—an average of 30 pounds per store.
      In April 2000 Starbucks announced an agreement with TransFair USA to offer Fair Trade Certified coffee in their stores beginning on October of 2000. They also agreed to develop educational materials and train their baristas so that consumers could also learn about Fair Trade.
     On October 4, 2000 Starbucks introduced whole bean Fair Trade Certified coffee at over 2,300 stores, which brought the number of Fair Trade outlets to almost 5,000 nationwide (it’s currently over 7,500)

Ethical Nonetheless

      “Starbucks is committed to purchasing our coffee in an ethical and sustainable manner, regardless of labels and certifications…Fair Trade Certified coffee is one source of supply for our global coffee purchases” ( Over he past 10 years, Starbucks, with the help of Conservation International, has developed guidelines that address their principles for ethical sourcing. These are called Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices and include a list of 24 criteria supported by “more than 200 environmental and social indicators.” In 2008, 77% of the coffee Starbucks bought was purchased from suppliers who meet the C.A.F.E. Practices zero-tolerance standards. In this way Starbucks coffee may not be Fair Trade Certified but it does meet some ethical standard.

Get the Facts
  • 385 million pounds: amount of coffee Starbucks bought in 2008, this represents 2% of all coffee worldwide
  • $1.49: average price per pound Starbucks paid for coffee in 2008
  • Shade grown coffee: purchased 2 million pounds (1% of Starbucks total purchases)
  • Certified organic coffees: purchased 12 million pounds (4% of Starbucks total purchases)
  • Fair Trade Certified coffees: 18 million pounds (represents 6% of Starbucks total purchases, 10% of global fair trade coffee imports, and 20% of US fair trade coffee imports)

Café Estima and into the future

      Currently, the only 100% Fair Trade Certified coffee offered by Starbucks is the Café Estima Blend. This is available bagged but is not brewed unless customers request it and does not get much visibility in stores. According to Global Exchange, consumers report an inability to get bagged and brewed coffee in Starbucks stores across the US. They blame this on limited promotion, poor placement of bagged Fair Trade coffee on low shelves, and the availability of only one Fair Trade blend.
     In October 2008, Starbucks announced plans to double their purchases of Fair Trade coffee in 2009. This means Starbucks will buy 40 million pounds of coffee (around 12% of their total purchases). This is the next step in Starbucks’ Shared Planet commitment to ethical sourcing. By the end of 2009, 100% of espresso-based beverages and espresso coffee sold in the UK and Ireland will be Fair Trade Certified.


Fair Trade Logo