coffee shops

Monday 28 February 2011



As Fairtrade Fortnight kicks off, in the latest issue of Ethical Consumer magazine a buyers' guide to coffee shop chains has found that despite being the biggest buyer of Fairtrade coffee in the world Starbucks scores worst when rated across 19 ethical categories from workers’ rights to anti-social finance.

Walk down your local high street and you’re quite likely to be presented with a choice between the big three UK coffee shop chains: Starbucks; Costa or Caffe Nero [See Notes for company profiles]. Of these only Starbucks sells Fairtrade coffee – so is Starbucks the high street choice for the ethical consumer? Not according to co-editor of Ethical Consumer magazine and report author Dan Welch:

“I would always reach for a bag of Fairtrade coffee from the shop shelf over anything else. But if the choice on the high street was between a Fairtrade espresso from union-busting, Guantanamo Bay supplying, trademark colonialists Starbucks, or a Rainforest Alliance espresso from Costa I know which side of the street I’d choose.”

Since the end of 2009 Starbucks has gone Fairtrade in the UK and Ireland. Since last year all Costa Coffee in the UK is Rainforest Alliance certified. [See Notes for Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade].

“We’ve uncovered a record of unethical behaviour that runs completely counter to Starbucks image as an environmentally-friendly, bohemian Seattle coffee shop,” says Welch. “It covers everything from serving up genetically engineered growth hormone in milk in the US and a relentless union-busting campaign, to attempting to block Ethiopia’s attempts to improve the livelihoods of coffee growers and petitioning  a US Federal Judge to allow in evidence the past sexual history of a 16 year old former employee when she took a case of work-place sexual harassment to court.” [See Notes for a negative Starbucks stories]

“Fairtrade is still the gold standard,” explains Welch: “Our Best Buy is AMT Coffee, the first UK coffee shop to go 100% Fairtrade with its coffee and offer 100% organic milk. Ethical consumers will of course want to support coffee producers with Fairtrade, but they might spare a thought for the poverty wages and right to organise of the coffee shop worker too.”

Costa Coffee rated second best after AMT Coffee Costa. [see Notes for company profiles].



1 To see a copy of the coffee shops buyers' guide follow this link:

2 Launched in 1989 Ethical Consumer is the UK's leading ethical and environmental magazine. In each issue Ethical Consumer examines the ethical and environmental record of the companies behind everyday products and services from bread to banks.
For more information visit the Ethical Consumer website:

3 Rainforest Alliance vs Fairtrade
Both schemes involve minimum social, labour and environmental standards. The key difference is that Fairtrade guarantees a minimum price that tracks slightly above market rates, plus a ’Fairtrade premium’ that can be invested in projects that enhance social, economic and environmental development. Fairtrade certification adds 1 point to a product’s score in Ethical Consumer’s rating system.
The Rainforest Alliance label only guarantees that 30% of coffee beans in a product have been certified. It does not add a positive mark in the rating system.

4 Starbucks
Some of the stories behind Starbuck’s negative scores:
Providing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp with Starbucks coffee kiosks (1)
The US National Lawyers Guild accuses Starbucks of a “relentless and illegal anti-union campaign” and “retaliatory firing” of union organisers (2). There were six settlements in three years for complaints to the US National Labor Relations Board of violating workers’ rights (3)
According to the Starbucks Workers Union it provides US staff with worse health care coverage than Wal-Mart and recently doubling health insurance costs (4).
Starbucks refused for six years to give into pressure from campaigners to ban the genetically engineered artificial ‘recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone’ from its dairy supply chain (5)
Oxfam campaigned against Starbucks obstruction by lobbying of Ethiopia’s trademark applications for its traditional coffee varieties in the US, which were intended to boost income for some of the world’s poorest coffee growers (6)
CEO Howard Shultz’s income by 25% in 2009, a year in which the company slashed costs by $580 million, partly by reducing its work force by 19% (7)
A US court ordered the company to pay more than $100 million into the accounts of its low wage staff in California after ruling that it had improperly required the workers to share tips with their bosses (8)
Starbucks petitioned a US Federal Judge to allow the past sexual history of a 16 year old former employee to be revealed in court after she went public over the company's alleged “failure to act” in a case of aggravated sexual harassment, before settling out of court  (9)

1. Nick Turse, 'The Complex: How the military invades our everyday lives' (Faber, 2008)

Call: Dan Welch: 0771 5558465
Or:  Simon Birch: 0796 9086136