Monday, February 5, 2007

Coffee Controversy

For the past several weeks, I have been gathering as much information as I can about Ethiopia and life in Ethiopia. This in the desperate attempt to learn a little something about my future children. Their history will be so different than mine - but it will soon be intertwined with mine - and it is important to me that I learn as much as I can.

For those of you who do not know, Ethiopia is the country of origin for coffee. And Ethiopian farmers continue to grow and sell coffee as one of their major exports. For the past several years (ever since my trip to Tanzania in January 2000) I have purchased ONLY fair trade coffee. Yes, its more expensive. But, to me it tastes better and I can buy it knowing that the farmers who grew it are benefitting from my purchase. Of course, I occassionally would buy a Starbucks coffee, but it wasn't a regular occurrence. After doing some additional research online, I realized that I can no longer support Starbucks in good conscience. So, now when I want a cup of specialty coffee, I drive all the way across town to a coffee shop that I know serves Fair Trade coffee. Its an inconvenience since there's a Starbucks just a couple of blocks from my house, but to me, its worth it. Of course, it wastes a bit of gas, but that's an entirely different issue.

Below is the transcript of the letter I just sent to the CEO of Starbucks, Jim Donald. You can learn more about the unfair trade practices effecting the people of Ethiopia and what you can do to help by visiting Oxfam North America at the following address:

If you are so inclined you can send the same letter.
As a Starbucks customer, I'm concerned about your opposition to Ethiopia's right to own its coffee names. I am asking Starbucks to honor its commitment to farmers by signing an agreement with Ethiopia that recognizes the country's rights to the names of its coffees. If Starbucks and other companies sign such agreements, estimates suggest that Ethiopian's could see up to $88 million of extra income a year.Ethiopia ranks among the poorest countries in the world; more than 25 percent of its population lives on less than $1 per day. About 15 million people in Ethiopia depend on coffee to make a living, the majority of them growing their crop on small plots of about two and a half acres. Meanwhile, coffee lovers pay up to $26 per pound for fine Ethiopian coffees because they're willing to pay for high quality and great taste. Ethiopian farmers, however, often earn just 5-10 percent of the retail value.With this disparity in mind, the Ethiopian government launched a project to get legal ownership of its fine coffee names - Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harar. By owning the names, Ethiopia will be able to occupy a stronger negotiating position with foreign buyers, capture a larger share of the market value associated with those names, and protect the reputations of its brand names. In a country with a per capita income of around $100 per year, that amount of money could have a profound impact on the lives of millions of Ethiopians.As you know, Ethiopia approached Starbucks more than a year ago asking the company to lead by example and to discuss an agreement that would acknowledge Ethiopia's ownership of these names. So far, Starbucks has refused to sign the agreement, or even talk seriously about it with the Ethiopian government. I want to see Starbucks do the right thing by the poor farmers who grow its coffee. I urge you to sign the licensing agreement and recognize Ethiopia's rightful ownership of its coffee names.

1 comment:

Kevin & Stacie said...

Thank you for bringing this up! When we first decided to adopt from Ethiopia I went out and bought some "Ethiopian" coffee from Starbucks and then, that night, did some research and found the OxFam website. I did see today, however, that Trader Joes has started to carry certified Fair Trade Ethiopian coffee, so I'm planning on buying that in the future.