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Starbucks’ deforestation-free pledge is woefully inadequate, coalition says

Dec 17

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17/12/2015 16:38  RssIcon

Stronger policy needed to protect forests, wildlife, public health and climate


A coalition of science, environmental and labour organizations have this week criticised Starbucks over what they describe as its "woefully inadequate" deforestation pledge.

The organisations sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz urging him to strengthen his company’s supply chain policy to ensure it doesn’t contribute to deforestation, a significant cause of global warming.

Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino, photo credit: Jack Fussell, Flickr

The commodities in question include wood and paper products and palm oil, the later of which is an ingredient in a number of Starbucks menu items, including its Java Chip Frappuccino and Cranberry Bliss Bar.

The signatories on the letter include the Center for International Policy, Forest Heroes, the International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, the Sierra Club, SumOfUs and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In addition to the letter, more than 300,000 consumers have petitioned Starbucks to go “deforestation-free.”

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The letter claims:

“Starbucks likes to promote itself as a responsible corporate citizen, but it lags far behind consumer and industry standards for protecting forests,” said Lael Goodman, a UCS analyst. “To maintain its do-gooder reputation, Starbucks should permanently sever any connection to forest destruction by adopting a strong procurement policy that clearly spells out a timetable for implementation.”

The company currently has a weak procurement commitment for palm oil, which is mainly sourced from Southeast Asia.

Backlash over use of palm oil

As we reported in our recent palm oil special report, irresponsible growers in Asia routinely destroy tropical forests and peatlands for plantations, producing fires that emit tonnes of greenhouse gases, threaten the health of area residents and endanger elephants, orangutans and tigers.

In July, after receiving a 10 out of a potential score of 100 in UCS’s 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard and pressure from consumers, Starbucks responded. It promised “a stronger focus” on preserving forests and peatlands, which are carbon-rich wetlands.

The company’s pledge didn’t impress the coalition:

“a 'stronger focus’ falls well short of the industry standard of a strict ‘No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation’ palm oil sourcing policy and time-bound implementation plan.”

Other fast food chains, including Dunkin’ Brands, McDonald’s and Yum! Brands—owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—have adopted zero-deforestation procurement policies.

Starbucks also vowed to only buy palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, but the company acknowledges that RSPO certification is insufficient.

Indeed, RSPO standards address a number of key issues, such as pesticide use and labour conditions, but don’t go far enough to protect the climate. RSPO certification, for example, still allows producers to clear forests and peatlands to create or expand plantations. Only pristine, or “primary,” forests are completely off-limits. The standards also don’t restrict carbon emissions from plantation development. They only offer guidelines for reporting emissions from forest conversion.

Finally, Starbucks made a commitment “to pursuing zero net deforestation across [its] supply chain,” covering all products that it buys, not only palm oil. This didn’t sit well with the coalition either—for good reasons.

The word “pursuing,” the coalition letter points out, lacks specificity.

What is needed, the coalition says, is a firm timetable for achieving this goal.

Perhaps even more importantly:

“zero net deforestation means that Starbucks is willing to do business with a company that clears forests, so long as it plants saplings elsewhere,” the letter states. “Applying this approach to tropical forests would send even more [carbon] pollution into the atmosphere.”

A week of criticism

It has not been a good week for Starbucks who were also criticised on Tuesday for the opaque nature of their tax affairs by Fair Tax Mark campaigner Richard Murphy after they released details of the amount of tax they paid in 2014.

Starbucks claims to have paid £8.1m in corporation tax at a rate of 24% last year. But Richard Murphy told the Guardian it was impossible to know if Starbucks was still aggressively avoiding tax until accounts for its European parent company, Starbucks EMEA, are published.

“The company is declaring a profit and appearing to pay a fair tax rate on it but the fact is we have no clue whether the profits on which tax is paid are fairly stated."

Further Reading:

Find out which companies receive a worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance

Discover how you can avoid palm oil in our palm oil free guide



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