Fairtrade & Starbucks – Sharing the Starbucks perspective

Several weeks ago I attended an event hosted by Starbucks here in London. They invited Starbucks baristas from around the UK & Ireland to talk with Fairtrade farmers from Latin America & Africa to discuss the impact Fairtrade has on their lives and for everyone to learn from each other. I was able to join them, to listen in and ask some questions.

My aim of the day was to find out more about Starbucks and their approach to engaging employees and obviously about Fairtrade at Starbucks. I like the coffee and the brand itself but would I like what Starbucks do in terms of Sustainability, CSR and Fairtrade as well?

To make it short: Yes I learned a lot and yes I like the approach Starbucks is taking with its Shared Planet commitment.

These are the things I learned that morning:

On Quality, Fairtrade and CSR – The quality of the coffee is the most important measurement of success for the supplier for Starbucks. This is does not depend on the location. No matter if the producer is located in Africa or Costa Rica for example. Starbucks is not compromising on quality. In order to reach that high quality level Starbucks is helping producers to raise the percentage of the coffee harvest that is at Starbucks quality level

This is in my opinion a really interesting CSR perspective as both parties are looking for a win-win situation. The producers to raise their quality level for a higher price and Starbucks getting the quality they need. I am not going into detail what kind of examples were named but I found this a really interesting topic.

Technology improvements to make Sustainability progress – Another point was also the fact that technology advances in many different areas have helped the producers to increase not only the quality but also to limit the environmental impact of the farmers on their fields. Water usage for example decreased significantly with the producers from Costa Rica.
And in Africa this even goes further. The farmer from Tanzania pointed out that technology advances like mobile phones are now crucial at farmers level to enable them to not only communicate with each other but also to exchange data about the quality of the coffee with the wholesaler and Starbucks. Smart phones such as the iPhone are now being piloted to be given to farmers to submit their information instantly. And I thought I was trendy with my iPhone!

The more responsible use of fertilizers – This was the last major topic that was discussed that morning. The question was what type of fertilizer they use and how do they ensure the health of crops? The farmer from Costa Rica answered that they are using more organic fertilizers than ever. But fertilizer is important and will always be important to ensure the quality and scalability of the production. So far the farmers in Costa Rica have reduced the amount of chemicals by 50-60% with the help of Starbucks. Another benefit is that farmers are now much happier with this situation as the amount and likelihood of diseases of the farmer through old fashioned fertilizers is decreased dramatically by the development of organic fertilizers and use of fewer fertilizers. Starbucks is also helping the farmers to get the right kind of fertilizers for the farmers’ purpose. Here Starbucks is producing new types of crops that are then give them out to farmers that require even less fertilizers as they are much more resistant to pests. And this is being done without genetic research.

In summary:
I think this was a really interesting event as it wasn’t focused on pure promotion but rather on the information aspect. The main learning for me was that Starbucks has the big challenge of combining the quality, timely supply, proper stakeholder management and innovation throughout the supply chain so that it in the end all works in sync for us to drink our coffee in our local Starbucks.
From what I can tell is Starbucks doing a great job at this. I do not have the full picture of course and it would not be me if I would not stay critical of big company actions but these insights have really helped me to get a better feel for the company. I even bought a Starbucks card now.

So next time you walk into a Starbucks why not take a minute to look around and maybe even ask a member of staff (called a partner) about the Shared Planet commitment. You might be surprised as I was about how much each person knows about Shared Planet and how complex it all is.

No Comments

  1. Hi Fabian. Thanks for this post. It was really interesting to note the technology improvements especially the use of iPhones by farmers in Africa – Is there any special programme that Starbucks is running in Africa to roll out these kinds of technology?

  2. Hi Jo. Thanks for the comment. I agree this is a very interesting aspect of technology usage. I will have to check with Starbucks and get back to you on this.

  3. Fabian – This was a really great post! Thank you for sharing your experience and this information! It's great to see that not only is Starbucks embarking on these initiatives but they are educating their employees on these important aspects of doing business, which is such an important part of furthering corporate responsibility as a business strategy.

  4. I heard that Fair Trade only represents 4% of the coffee that starbucks sells.

  5. I heard that Fair Trade only represents 4% of the coffee that starbucks sells.

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