Would you like a handcrafted fabric bag with your coffee?

I just got back to the U.S. after close to ten months away, so visits to all-American favorites like Trader Joes and Starbucks have been in order.  Perhaps this explains my recent fascination with all things Starbucks related - and, as mentioned in a previous post, it continues to raise complexities so often present in Corporate Social Responsibility debates - namely what's good, what's just a cover for not-entirely-truthful PR, and when has a company truly changed?

In the midst of a recent road trip I stopped for my first frappucino and was excited to see the Rwandan cloth bags Starbucks is currently selling as part of their continued partnership with Rwanda.  You can read a bit about Starbuck's history in Rwanda here, and decide for yourself what falls under the "prime opportunity to exploit develop business in a devastated country" and what falls under the banner of a "win-win for a country in dire need of economic stimulus and a company willing to partner in responsible ways to mutual benefit."  As I've stated in my previous posts, I'm pretty on board with the latter, and especially appreciate the fact that Starbucks and other interested corporations have sought out Rwanda in part because of the qualities they see in President Paul Kagame, described as, "open, honest, business-savvy and, unlike some African leaders, serious about fighting corruption."  The relationship is further sweetened by Rwanda's open arms to the corporate community - and this is where you really see the opportunity for corporate actions and development to intersect.  In a recent post on their website, Starbucks director of coffee sustainability Peter Torrebiarte noted that the Rwandan cloth bags (one of the newer collaborations between the country and Starbucks) represented the first full container of manufactured goods ever to be exported from Rwanda.  That's pretty impressive.

In exploring the history of Starbuck's involvement with Rwanda just a bit, I remember reading as one author pondered the role of the CEO in such relationships and whether they bear more responsibility than the rest of us (presumably) as consumers.  If you isolate the relationship Starbucks and other corporations are cultivating in Rwanda, the role becomes more evident.  Is it possible that the heightened exposure CEOs seek in such markets helps shield them from the relationships their businesses have in developing countries in which they aren't personally as active, in those countries that are a bit further along the development spectrum (and the ensuing corruption, of course)?  Nearby Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption - with farmers throwing up their hands and bailing out in search of better incomes.  Still, the coffee sector represents a huge part of National income - as do reports in recent years of challenges with global retailers like Starbucks.

Starbucks or not, Rwanda faces its own economic challenges - lets hope relationships like that cultivated by President Kagame and Starbucks continue to serve the best interests of all involved.

*Apologies for light posting lately.  My return to the U.S. has prompted a truly haze-inducing set of allergy issues resulting in zero headspace for blog thoughts.  I'll be on vacation next week but would love to hear from JustMeans members with ideas for blogs to share with the community next week.