Starbucks, Ethiopia… and Mercy Ships

August 11, 2007

“For every cup of Ethiopian coffee Starbucks sells, Ethiopian farmers earn 3¢.” – Oxfam, October, 2006

The trademark dispute between Ethiopia and Starbucks has ended with a bizarre and mysterious accord. Ethiopia, one of the ancient civilizations in the world, collided with a symbol of globalization and, to some extent, challenged the status-quo without success. The outcome should serve third-world countries as a reminder of the harsh reality that they have far go to get control of their intellectual property rights.

Although Ethiopian coffees command a premium price in foreign markets, particularly the US, farmers who grow the beans often live in extreme poverty. The Ethiopian coffee sector’s strategy to trademark the famous coffee brands, Harar, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe, in all major international markets was an eye-opener for many of the coffee growing nations in Africa. But that effort hit a dead end in the US, home for Starbucks Corporation. After several months of fight, Starbucks and Ethiopia declared on June 20, 2007 that they have both emerged as winners.

Whether and how the terms of the truce will benefit Ethiopian coffee farmers remains to be seen. What is unquestionable is that, because of Starbucks and the National Coffee Association, Ethiopia has lost the trademark for Sidamo in the US and has surrendered the moral high ground that had won her support from all over the globe and has very little to show for it. Besides, all the economic opportunities that might have changed the lives of the poor farmers, who, for centuries, have been taken advantage of, have vanished into thin air.

From Coffee Politics- more here.

Which all makes me wonder why the first Starbucks in West Africa is aboard the Africa Mercy. Surely Mercy Ships can afford to be a little more choosy about thier sponsorship.

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6 Responses to “Starbucks, Ethiopia… and Mercy Ships”

  1. wilsonhines Says:

    That is a total shame. And the worst part of it is that by the time a consumer gets that bag of Ethiopian coffee from Charbux it has been roasted for months and months. Everybody who knows anything about coffee knows that once it is roasted, you MIGHT have two weeks of good use.

    I must add that a green coffee coop has purchased several bags of Ethiopian Sidamo for about $3.00 per pound and had it nitrogen sealed and shipped FedEx. I get mine tomorrow 🙂 This is fair trade!


  2. I think it is horrible that Starbucks paid just $1.37 a pound for Ethiopian coffee in 2006 while Fair Trade paid $1.41 a pound. The extra $0.04 a pound can go a long way in Ethiopia. Of course, Starbucks is the world’s largest buyer of Fair Trade coffee so in a round about way they also paid the largest chunk of that extra $0.04.

    Nevertheless, Starbucks is a big company so odds are that they are doing simply horrid things. We must stop them immediately.

    Clearly their buying things from farmers in Ethiopia is an evil plot to imporverish those same farmers. The farmers will thrive only when Starbucks stops buying their coffee.

    I am confused by the OxFam statement since I thought I was buying labor at Starbucks (someone to make a coffee for me). I’ve never bought any green coffee there. The blokes behind the counter actually get $0.30 of every $1 spent there.

  3. benjamin ady Says:

    Africa Mercy has a starbucks? That is … intriguing. Any outcry elsewhere?

  4. benjamin ady Says:

    oh–you mean the first starbucks brand coffee in west africa will be arriving via africa mercy?

    do I understand you to be saying that you think perhaps mercy ships should have refused the free coffee from starbucks on moral or ethical grounds?

    Are they getting rid of anastasis altogether? was that the original plan with africa mercy, or did that sort of come up last minute?

    Seems curious is all–I mean is anastasis falling apart because it’s too old or something? 30 million pounds to build africa mercy, and what happens to all the investment in anastasis? Sounds like a tough decision, whatever it was about.

  5. Zingo Lucifer Says:

    There you have it. Starbucks is bad because

    1) It buys coffee from Ethiopian farmers.

    2) It gives roasted coffee to relief oragnizations including Africa Mercy, International Red Cross, and the American Red Cross.

    What horrible thing will they do next? I sure hope they don’t try to buy something from me or give me free coffee. Isn’t it enough that they are burdening our troops in Iraq with free coffee also.

  6. Sharon Says:

    The Africa Mercy has a Starbucks cafe onboard. I have just discovered that the Chairman of the Board of Mercy Ships is a director of Starbucks. I think through him Mercy Ships recieved a large donation of coffee for the crew, which is sold at reduced rates at the Starbucks cafe onboard.

    I actually have a mixed view about the donations, I do think it is great that they give away so much coffee. I just wonder if a Starbucks themed cafe is going a little too far. I believe corporate social responsibilty should be more than a veneer, and the Ethiopia issue seems to highlight a corporate culture within Starbucks that is not as friendly to producers as it could be.

    Large Hamster & Zinger- thanks for commenting. Remember to be happy you are at the consumer end of the chain, rather than the producers.

    (Benjamin- the Anastasis was retired due to age, as was the Caribbean Mercy. I guess they decided the ongoing costs of running older, smaller ships was less viable than one big, newer one. I wasn’t around when the decision was made but I know it was a hard one, and hard for the crew to day goodbye too.)


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