Disappointed in Starbucks Choices

Chris Hoffman

One can hardly avoid the vast number of articles online and in magazines, not to mention books and television, having to do with buying local, the inherent evils of the profit motive within the national food chain, and the near critical need for increased awareness and a higher consciousness surrounding such issues. The current mantra is “local is the new organic.”

Yet, perplexingly, Colgate has chosen to allow a global entity to open yet another profit center right in the middle of campus, rather than expanding The Barge or possibly partnering with Common Grounds in Cazenovia or some other local business.

Even without the global versus local twist, there are numerous reasons to eschew an association with Starbucks.

According to the Organic Consumers Association, despite over five years of grassroots pressure, Starbucks continues to serve milk from cows that are injected with genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST. Virtually every industrial country, except for the United States, has banned the sale of rBGH milk. Milk produced from cows injected with rBGH poses serious dangers to human health and the general welfare of dairy cows. If Starbucks, a major buyer of milk, were to reject rBGH dairy products, we could effectively eliminate unsafe milk from the market.

Similarly, while Starbucks has slowly bought more certified Fair Trade coffee, it represents only a very small percentage of its total coffee (about 3.7 percent). Starbucks rarely offers certified Fair Trade coffee as its coffee of the day, nor has it followed its own policy of brewing Fair Trade coffee on demand (again according to the OCA).

Many coffee farmers receive prices for their harvest that can be less than the costs of production, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and debt. They are often forced to sell to middlemen who pay half the market price, generally 30 to 50 cents per pound. Fair trade coffee sells for four or five times that amount, and the money goes directly to coffee farmers, not to predatory middlemen. Fair Trade farmers are also ensured access to credit at the beginning of the harvest season so they can support themselves during the lean months between harvests.

It’s not as if fair trade coffee is hard to come by: more than 500,000 farmers around the world produce and sell more than 170 million pounds of coffee each year through the Fair Trade network. Over 100 fair trade coffee brands are sold worldwide in approximately 35,000 retail outlets (7,000 in the US). There are now over 50 importers and roasters in the US, the largest being Equal Exchange (www.equalexchange.com).

Despite this readily available information, Colgate has chosen to support an entity that engages in ethically questionable practices in the name of profit margin, an entity whose greedy and unchecked expansion has been responsible for putting thousands of locally-owned neighborhood coffee houses out of business across the nation.

Additionally, entering into contract with Starbucks seems to fly in the face of the Hamilton Initiative, which has been imploring us for years now to “buy local.” How will a Starbucks on campus affect The Barge? Is this the beginning of the end for The Barge because students will no longer need a downtown venue to study? If so, will Colgate eventually decide to close the Barge because it’s not turning an acceptable level of profit, denying all non-student residents the pleasure of one of the best downtown improvements to happen in decades?

Colgate prides itself on teaching students to be world citizens with sound ethics and a strong moral code, yet it makes decisions like this that stand in stark contrast to such considerations – a perfect example of “do as I say, not as I do.” I find it abhorrently mind-boggling.