A millennial sips a cup of Starbucks coffee, thinking about their passion for art and hope to save humanity, but has a hard time noticing the lack of truth in their own cup of coffee. With Starbucks at the epicenter of pop culture, many of us are willing to support Starbucks blindly, without question, as long as we can get that Tall Peppermint Mocha during the holiday season.
In 2009, UCSD became a fairtrade university, with a program that targets tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, ice cream, and grains available on campus. Housing, Dining, and Hospitality (HDH) defines Fair Trade as advocating “the payment of a fair price for goods” in order to keep the workers and production staff protected from detrimental treatment. This means our coffee is a little bit more expensive, but allows the workers who produce it to have a higher quality of life.
The arrival of Starbucks in 2015 on campus in 2015 created somewhat of a controversy — Starbucks does have a program called Coffee and Farmer Equity (easily shortened to Starbucks “funny” pun C.A.F.E.), but it does not sell products that have a “Fair Trade” label.
The C.A.F.E. program aims to treat workers beneficially. The reality is that many farmers don’t know they are working for Starbucks and never see the “benefits” that Starbucks claims to give their farmworkers. The C.A.F.E. program claims to be superior to Fair Trade status, but unfortunately this isn’t quite the case.
HDH explains the four components of their on-campus Fair Trade status: market access for marginalized producers, sustainable trading relationships, capacity building and empowerment, and consumer awareness and advocacy. That’s a lot of words with little face-value meaning. Luckily, HDH summarizes their components into five more attainable parts:
- Fair prices for farmers and workers.
- Environmentally sustainable farming practices.
- Decent working and living conditions.
- Investments in the local community.
- No child labor.
Additionally, there are specific categories a corporation must fit into to be considered Fair Trade: “A certification is granted by third-party certifiers such as Fair Trade USA or Fairtrade International based on several principles: a set minimum price, a fair trade premium that goes directly back to the producers, supply-chain transparency, and specific environmental and social standards. The company launched its C.A.F.E. Practices in 2003, and by 2010 it said it was purchasing 86 percent of its coffee from certified farms.”
“A certification is granted by third-party certifiers such as Fair Trade USA or Fairtrade International based on several principles: a set minimum price, a fair trade premium that goes directly back to the producers, supply-chain transparency, and specific environmental and social standards. The company launched its C.A.F.E. Practices in 2003, and by 2010 it said it was purchasing 86 percent of its coffee from certified farms.”
Essentially, those words all mean the same thing: fair trade is good for the safety of workers and producers. This is a cost trade-off that many are willing to make if it means better sourcing for products. Standards for health and safety are often lacking in foreign countries, and fair trade goods are a step in the right direction.
In 2013, then Graduate Student Association (GSA) president Rahul Kapadia explained that people “want Starbucks,” and that it will create a large revenue that would help the university escape problems of debt by the following year.
“We have to think about what the constituents that you are representing want, not what you want,” Kapadia said, “it’s important to keep a healthy mix, have large and small corporations.”
During the meeting, the members of the University Center Advisory Board briefly discussed the implications of what having a Starbucks on campus meant for the fair trade program — however, they quickly decided that Starbucks’ replacement fair trade program was close enough.
By supporting Starbucks, and their abnormally low-cost, non-fair-trade coffee, the smaller businesses on campus have to deal with the unfair competition. While Starbucks was let on campus primarily to support students and their needs, it is not conducive to the student-run or independent businesses on campus. Places like The General Store and Muir Woods Coffee House are mandated to sell coffee that is deemed fair trade and thusly, cannot compete with the cheap coffee that Starbucks sells. That’s not a bad thing — selling fair trade coffee is a great thing, so shouldn’t everyone have to play by the same rules?
Both are mandated to sell coffee that is deemed fair trade and thusly, cannot compete with the cheap coffee that Starbucks sells. That’s not at all a bad thing — selling fair trade coffee is a great, so it only makes sense that everyone should have to play by the same rules.
By creating different rules for Starbucks, the people fighting for Fair Trade are being harmed along with almost everyone in the surrounding community.
Are we as students willing to look past this ethical lapse because of the profit a coffee shop like Starbucks produces for the campus?
The answer is in the next cup of coffee that you buy.
April 20th: This article previously referred to the University Centers Advisor Board (UCAB) as the Center Advisory Board.