Sunday, August 2, 2009

Starbuck's sharpening his harpoon,The black man is playing his tune, An old salt's sleeping his watch away, He'll be drunk again before noon.

I have a guilty secret to reveal. I love Starbucks.

I love the idea of Starbucks, the coffees and products, the atmosphere, and the convenience of Starbucks. I love where Starbucks came from. I love the novel Moby Dick by Melville and I love the fact that Howard Schultz decided to name his company after a character in the novel. The title quote above is from a song about the hunt for Moby Dick - called Nantucket Sleighride - I love that song too - see my music blog - . I loved the fact that in London I could find a Starbucks whenever I needed one. A lot of love!

The only slight chink in that love is the way Samantha and Jade refuse to accompany me into Taranaki's sole Starbucks for the best mocha and pastry in New Plymouth. They always cite some objection to child labour or sweatshops or something. So I decided to see if they have a point. Where does one go these days for such information? Yes, you're right - google on the interweb.

I started my search with the general info page at Wikipedia. It was with a slight feeling of trepidation that I clicked the wikipedia hyperlink, . What if the girls were right? I've pooh poohed their claims for years but not with any concrete facts and figures to back me up. Mind you they hadn't produced those either - just a 'I heard they...yada yada yada'.

The wikipedia page wasn't that helpful. It told me only that Starbucks has been a frequent target of protests on issues such as 'fair-trade policies, labor relations, environmental impact, perceived anti-competitive practices, and rumors of support for the Israeli military.' They don't really elucidate beyond that except to dispel the rumour and outline the perceptions of anti-competitive practices (having loss making stores close to competitors). So no conclusive proof of wrong doing. I did get the address of an interesting blog though which has no affiliation with the company. It's worth a visit!

The charge about Fair Trade (and therefore child labour) is complex - it leads to statement and denial and counter statement type commentary. See this exchange on a weblog for instance - It seems, as far as I can tell, that Starbucks made a commitment in 2000 to sell and use fair trade coffee more. By 2004 the progress had been slow (see the global exchange site for details from their p.o.v. ) By 2009 the Fair Trade move by Starbucks resulted in the UK being 100% supplied but this hadn't been accomplished elsewhere in the world.

In general though the company has been moving in the right direction. 'This latest development in Starbucks ongoing commitment to Rwandan coffee farmers and Fair Trade builds on the decade-long relationship between Starbucks and Fair Trade organizations around the world, which also has seen Starbucks become the largest buyer of Fair Trade certified coffee in the world' (this from an independent flex-news source - . But then you read the blog I mentioned and it tends to suggest that this isn't much of a commitment.

This sort of stuff could drive you mad. I decided to go to my local NZ Starbucks as the tiebreak. The party line is available at if you're interested.

In the end I have to go with the fact that the NP Starbucks uses/sells/offers Fair Trade coffee - and if I follow the think global/act local credo - that does it for me and my conscience is clear. So that ticks off Fair Trade, Israeli support, and anti-competitive practices (this saturating the market concept also doesn't apply in NP - it's the only Starbucks in the district so it's not running at a loss to stop other coffee houses operating).

As for labour relations - NZ Starbucks lifted their game after Auckland baristas went on strike four years ago and various concessions were awarded as a consequence.

So from wikipedia's list there is only one aspect left to consider - environmental impact? Well wikipedia doesn't go into any detail about that so I'm not sure what the fuss may be about. The TV news tonight had a story from Africa of Levis and Gap jeans being made and dumped. It had severe effects on their local water ways (blue dye in your drinking water anyone?). This made me wonder anew about Starbucks. Could they also be responsible for wide scale environmental destruction?

Back to google. Seems those paper cups are a problem (so ask for the mugs whenever you can) but the Seattle newspaper I read says, 'Some environmental groups, including Conservation International and the Environmental Defense Fund, have partnered with Starbucks over the years and laud it as a company that embraced environmental awareness before it came into vogue.' Okay so, phew, no destroyed African landscapes there.

My conclusion, then, for Jade and Samantha (and by now - anyone else out there terror stricken by the thought of visiting a Starbucks contributes to the Earth's ruin) - you can relax a bit guys and join me for a non-guilty latte or a mocha the next time we go to New Plymouth.

In other news - our first lamb of the season was born today, and Samantha's countdown is down to two sleeps before she flies out to the land of Starbucks central (she's visiting Seattle after landing in San Francisco).

Love and peace and make mine a medium mocha, no cream - Wozza

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