Starbucks says claims of cutting ties with Fairtrade inaccurate

18 February 2022

Fairtrade America has sought to clarify reports that coffee giant Starbucks is cutting all ties with the Fairtrade Foundation.

Reports surfaced on Wednesday claiming Starbucks was ending its global partnership with Fairtrade, which started in 2000, and a UK-specific arrangement that began in 2010 – both of which have seen Starbucks plough more than $14m into funding farmer loans to Fairtrade co-operatives.

However, in a statement to Supply Management, Peg Willingham, the executive director of Fairtrade America, which leads the global relationship with Starbucks said: “Starbucks has confirmed it will continue purchasing Fairtrade coffee globally, [but] there will be a gradual reduction of some commitments over time in Europe, the Middle East and Africa as it looks to increase its focus on its own in-house programme.”

What the statement does not refute, however, is that over time, sales of coffee in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa will gradually transition away from a 100% Fairtrade status to Starbucks' own programme.

The supplier scheme called Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E) Practices standard was developed in partnership with environmental non-profit group Conservation International in 2004.

In response to the switch, several campaign groups have expressed concern that this alternative programme may be less rigorous than Fairtrade's, particularly as it does away with the latter's independent audits.

Fair World Project describes C.A.F.E Practices as having multiple “failings”, saying the standard has “no minimum guaranteed price”, and that “while Fairtrade standards require coffee to be grown by small-scale farmers organised in cooperatives, there is no such requirement for C.A.F.E Practices”.

In comparison, under Fairtrade rules, companies must pay farmers a minimum price for goods, along with a Fairtrade premium, and meet standards that protect the rights of workers and the environment.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Supply Management reports that references to C.A.F.E Practices as the company's own standards was “not accurate”. They said: “These have been developed in partnership with Conservation International, which is independently verified by SCS Global Service. The standards have been in place since 2004 and it is a robust programme.”

They confirmed that SCS Global Services is responsible for all quality assurance and audits of the C.A.F.E Practices. Also, the spokesperson reinforced the company's “strong, valued relationship” with Fairtrade.  

Willingham added: “Starbucks’ long-standing sourcing partnership with Fairtrade has made a significant impact in the livelihoods of farming communities, especially in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil, where farmers have faced many challenges in recent years as a result of the pandemic and climate change.

“Specifically, Starbucks’ sales have generated almost $100m in Fairtrade premiums for farmers globally since the company first began buying beans on Fairtrade terms more than 20 years ago.”

This is not the first time Starbucks has amended its stance on ethical sourcing.

In 2015, the company announced it would switch to 100% cage-free eggs for its food products by 2020 but later changed this to cover company-owned locations only, meaning 40% of its licensed restaurants would be excluded from the commitment.

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