There weren’t many things I loathed more than Starbucks. I would walk 10 blocks out of my way to avoid having to pass underneath that green awning. I’d choke down warmed-over Folgers decaf out of a styrofoam cup from a corner bodega. I’d drink rest stop swill. I was an unbearable tyrant in my insistence that they were homogenizing culture and driving out the mom and pops with their their over-roasted, over-priced Breakfast Blends. A tired argument that even I was growing sick of.
I also figured that their claims of ‘Fair Trade’ were probably largely bogus, that they were serving up their customers another big, steaming mug of bs. Corporate responsibility, these guys??
I recently returned from a trip to El Salvador where I was checking out how well coffee production and this very corporate responsibility were faring. I was expecting to come back chomping at the bit with an expose piece: Starbucks is a sham! Ha! Told you so! Much to my surprise, it turns out they’re actually almost holding up their end of the bargain. Nearly every farmer we spoke with was familiar with ‘Starbucks,’ even if they had never heard of Fair Trade. ‘Starbucks’ meant meeting 80% of a rigorous set of ecological and ethical standards. ‘Starbucks’ was funding social programs. ‘Starbucks’ was paying co-ops $100 per sack of ‘golden grain’ coffee even if market price dipped below. ‘Starbucks’ had guys on the ground making sure farmers were paying (some of) their workers a fair wage.
There’s a lot more they could do, sure. Too many small independent farmers and freelance pickers are falling through the cracks. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of concern over child labor (a ‘western ideal,’ according to our translator). But it seems, at least in El Salvador, that there actually is something to this whole ‘Fair Trade’ thing. I’ll still be going out of my way to Mud/Farley’s/Stumptown when I can but may not feel quite so guilty waiting in line for a coffee in Terminal B before a 7am flight. Plus I hear their breakfast sandwiches are out of this world.