Starbucks Most Unethical Coffee Chain in the UK

Surprised to read that headline?  Dan Welch from the Ethical Consumer magazine ranked brands on 19 different categories and found Starbucks far and away the worst due to its stance on workers’ rights and its political activities.

“We’ve uncovered a record of unethical behaviour that runs completely counter to Starbucks image as an environmentally friendly, bohemian Seattle coffee shop,” said Dan Welch, the magazine’s co-editor. According to the magazine, Starbucks covers up everything from serving up GM growth hormone in milk in the US and a relentless union-busting campaign. They have also attempted to block Ethiopia's attempts to improve the livelihoods of coffee growers and have petitioned a US federal judge to allow in evidence of past sexual history of a 16-year-old former employee when she took a case of sexual harassment to court.

Although the firm has sold Fairtrade coffee as standard in all its UK stores since 2009, the rest of the global operation has been slower on the uptake. Even in its US operations, for example the company has been criticized by the Organic Consumers' Association (OCA) for dragging its feet on launching Fairtrade. After a few years of campaigning by the organization, Starbucks finally agreed to brew Fairtrade in their stores.

In addition to these speculations Fairtrade, Starbucks has been ordered by a US court  to pay more than $100m into the accounts of its low-wage staff in California after ruling that it had improperly required the workers to share tips with their bosses, although the ruling was subsequently overturned on appeal. In the year 2009 when the company slashed costs by $580m, CEO Howard Schultz still got a 25% pay rise. It took campaigners six years before Starbucks stopped serving up the genetically engineered artificial recombinant bovine growth hormone in its milk in the US.

According to the magazine AMT coffee is the UK's most ethical brand of coffee. It is the first UK coffee shop to go 100% Fairtrade with its coffee and offer 100% organic milk. Costa Coffee is second on the list. In 2009 the company launched an environmental and labour rights programme with best practice policies.

In response to allegations, a Starbucks spokesperson responded saying, "It’s disappointing that the authors appear to be wholly unaware of Starbucks widely published ethical standards which guarantee rights, wages and conditions for coffee farmers, as well as offering industry-leading environmental performance in coffee production. Nor are they aware that our independently verified environmental standards for stores are cutting water and energy consumption by up to 25% or that employees own a share in the company and benefit from the success of our business. Surveys show our customers rate us top for ethical performance above other coffee chains and we were named ‘most ethical coffee company in Europe’ for the last two years."

What do you think? Will Starbucks ever be an ethical buy?

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©