Starbucks Makes Big Investment in Fair Trade


CoopeTarrazu co-op

We love our Small-Marts, independent bookstores, locally owned coffee shops. But you can't get around the fact that when the big boys like Walmart or Starbucks make a move, it has impact. We also love Fair Trade, and you can't get around the fact that while only ten percent of the coffee sold at Starbucks is Fair Trade Certified, that still makes them the largest purchaser in the world, buying forty million pounds of it this year. It can't get enough of the stuff.

So now Starbucks is setting up a $20 million Small Farmer Sustainability Initiative (SFSI) to crank up the volume.

The press release describes the goal:

The SFSI will allow Starbucks and the Fairtrade organizations to have an even greater impact than before, benefitting both coffee farmers and the coffee industry worldwide. Small-scale farms will have greater access to capacity-building resources in the areas of agronomy, technical support, and capital investment. Offering cooperatives increased access to credit and quality improving resources will enable farmers to increase income, improve family livelihoods, and promote sustainable community development. The partnership directly impacts the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of farmers and will help increase their participation in the global specialty coffee market.

The SFSI provides a new global standard for collaboration in the coffee industry to improve ethical sourcing and responsible business practices. The three-year pilot, launching in September 2009, will leverage on-the-ground expertise and resources each group has available in coffee growing regions. "

I spoke with Senior Vice President of coffee and tea Dub Hay, and Transfair President and CEO Paul Rice about Fair Trade and the initiative.

Mr. Hay, you say that 85% of your coffee is from small farms. But what percentage of your coffee is fair trade? Are you converting farms to Fair Trade?

Right now 10% of the coffee we sell is Fair Trade. We are working actively in identifying farms and co-ops that followed CAFE practices (Starbucks own sustainable criteria) but were not fair trade, and we are also looking at Fair Trade farms and co-ops that were not CAFE.

What is the CAFE Standard?

It is a standard we developed with Conservation International, farmers and other NGOs and it is verified by SCS. We put it out for discussion among farmers and NGOs, made some changes and it will continue to evolve.

Paul, Fair Trade is THE brand, the name we go to. What can you do to improve the sustainable practices for other farmers?

The mission of Fair Trade is not to help to help lift the small farmer out of poverty and to hell with the farmworkers. Our mission is clear: we help support small family farmers and farm workers on bigger farms. If you look across the range of Fair Trade products available, beyond coffee at tea and bananas and flowers, you will find that Fair Trade is already working with larger farms. In that case it is really a focus on working conditions, worker safety and health, right to organize, freedom of association, as well as a whole range of environmental criteria. We are looking at wages and community development funds. I am really proud of the work we have done in flowers and bananas, where the beneficiaries are the workers.

In coffee, Fair Trade standards today only works with small farmer coops. Coffee was the pioneering product in Fair Trade, still the number one product, and coffee is probably the last global cash crop that is mostly still produced by small family farmers. There is kind of a logic to saying that lets level the playing field for the disadvantaged majority.

[I was evidently talking too much about fair trade and not enough about SFSI so Dub Hay jumped in]:

I want to underscore that this an historic day for small farmers and fair trade. We have never seen anything this big in terms of the level of resources being committed and the number of farmers that will benefit.

We sometimes get the feeling that we are not getting traction in promoting green sustainable living, that it is not getting the market share and the mind share that it should, particularly in these hard economic times. We think it might be going backwards. What are you sensing on the floor? What is your feeling about where this market is going?

I think in these economic times it is exactly the right time to make these investments. We think it is the right time. We are going 100% fair trade for espresso drinks, starting in Europe and then the States. Our only limitation is the amount of coffee we can get. This not a program that it runs its course for a day, It is a partnership and a commitment. Our customers demand it and you will see more of it.

More on Fair Trade: Fair Trade Certified | Transfair USA | Fair Trade Overview

More on Starbucks and Sustainable Coffee:

Tags: Coffee | Costa Rica | Fair Trade