For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Protest Starbucks page and our All About Organics page, and our Millions Against Monsanto page.
Starbucks. It’s the largest coffee chain in the world, with 20,100 stores, and annual sales of $14.9 billion. CEO Howard Schultz is worth $1.6 billion.
It’s a fortune built, by consumers and coffee farmers, for Schultz and Starbucks’ shareholders.
But what if consumers stopped buying Starbucks? And instead, sought out companies that promote fair trade organic coffee? And fair trade cappuccinos made with organic milk?
The Organic Consumers Association has been pressuring Starbucks for 12 years to change its policies and practices around organics and fair trade. Yet apart from one victory—in 2007, when in response to consumer pressure Starbucks agreed to stop using milk containing Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone—the company has largely ignored consumer demand for organic, non-GMO drinks and snacks.
It’s time to ratchet up the pressure. The OCA is joining with GMO Inside to (again) ask Starbucks to switch to organic milk. Until Starbucks switches to organic and GMO-free, the company remains on our boycott list.
In the Starbucks 2013 Annual Report, Schultz says, “I hope you will agree that we are achieving our goals in ways in which we can all be extremely proud.”
Here are five reasons we think Starbucks has nothing to be proud of.
Starbucks uses non-organic milk from factory farms
In 2011 (and the company has grown steadily since then), Starbucks used over 93 million gallons of milk per year, enough to fill 155 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
None of it was organic.
But what if it were? Imagine the impact Starbucks could have on the organic milk industry. The pressure it could exert on the marketplace by forcing other coffee chains to switch to organic, in order to remain competitive. And the role the company could play in ending the abuse and unhealthy practices rampant in factory farm dairies.
Starbucks likes to tout the fact that since it stopped using milk that contains Monsanto’s rBGH growth hormone, it uses “GMO-free” milk.
That may be true. But by its refusal to switch to USDA certified organic milk, Starbucks is a huge promoter of the GMO agriculture model—because dairy cows are fed a steady diet of GMO feed, including corn, soy, alfalfa, and cotton seed.
That’s an unhealthy diet for animals. And an unsustainable model for agriculture.
Starbucks peddles mostly non-organic, GMO (junk) foods and drinks
Starbucks may use GMO-free (non-organic) milk in its coffee drinks, but only 1.1 percent of its coffee is certified organic.
And there are plenty of other GMO-tainted (and non-organic) products and ingredients on the Starbucks menu. In fact, the addition of breakfast sandwiches, juice and tea are credited with a recent uptick in company sales.
“The single largest contributor to the comparable sales growth in the [second] quarter was food,” Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead told Bloomberg. “It resonates with customers.”
Here’s what would “resonate” with consumers who want healthy food choices—organic, non-GMO food and beverages.
Instead, as “Food Babe” Vani Hari wrote last year, Starbucks’ offerings include preservatives, high fructose (GMO) corn syrup, proplyene glycol, chemically derived sugars, cellulose gum (a filler made from wood pulp), and azodicarbonamide, a substance banned in other countries and linked to asthma. And that’s the short list.
Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association
Maybe all those GMO-tainted foods are the reason Starbucks supports the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the lobbying group that has spent millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws?
Last year the anti-GMO movement was locked in a fierce battle—on Starbucks’ home turf, Washington State—with Monsanto and the processed-food industry, over I-522, a citizens’ initiative to label GMOs.
The measure was defeated, by a mere 1 percent, after companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola, and their multi-billion dollar lobbying group, the GMA, spent millions to defeat it.
The GMA stooped to illegally laundering contributions to defeat I-522. The group also donated $2.2 million to defeat a similar labeling initiative in California, in 2012. All told, GMA and its members spent about $20 million to defeat Prop 37.
During the Washington I-522 campaign, the OCA reached out to Starbucks to ask the company to withdraw its support from the GMA and come out in support consumers’ right to know.
Motion denied. Starbucks continues to support the GMA, which is now pushing a bill in Congress that would preempt state GMO labeling laws, and overturn existing laws, like the one recently passed in Vermont.
The OCA has called for a boycott of all members of the GMA, including Starbucks.
Starbucks fails the Fair Trade test
Starbucks wants you to feel all warm and fuzzy about buying its coffee. But here are the facts. According to the company’s own global impact report, only 8.4 percent of the company’s coffee purchases in 2013 were certified fair trade.
So how does the company get around such a dismal fair trade track record, and still fool consumers into thinking it “cares” about coffee farmers? By creating its very own “fair” trade standards.
Again, according to the coffee giant’s global impact report, 95.3 percent of Starbucks coffee is "ethically sourced." But all that means is that those coffee purchases meet the (weak) standards of Starbucks’ in-house program, called CAFE (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices). These sub-standard standards are often applied to large-scale plantations, which then compete against small-scale coffee co-ops for which (real) fair trade standards were intended to provide market opportunities.
Starbucks’ CAFÉ standards are focused on the farm level, not on Starbucks' own commitment to farmers in terms or long-term stability. Unlike genuine fair trade standards, the CAFÉ program standards don’t specify either a minimum price or a standard for negotiating price that would guarantee a fair price for small farmers.
You can learn more about how Starbucks skirts the Fair Trade issue at the Fair World Project.
Starbucks is negotiating “free trade” in secret
¬Starbucks isn’t content to just make up its own “fair” trade standards. The company is also working behind the scenes to finagle corporate-friendly (as in, not worker-friendly) conditions for global trade.
A representative from Starbucks has a seat at the table of the highly secretive negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a global trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors. The public and most of Congress have been shut out of the negotiations—but nearly 600 corporations, including Starbucks, have full access.
When a representative from the OCA’s Fair World Project contacted Starbucks to ask what role the company is playing on the negotiating team, and what policies the company is advocating, she was referred to the company website for its “policies on free trade.”
Surely, a company as profitable as Starbucks can do better. But if it won’t, it’s time for Starbucks to own up to the fact that, despite its purported concern for society, the company worships exclusively at the altar of profits.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is national director of the Organic Consumers Association.