16 September 2012

Step Down Sunday - Coffee Shops

We've always taken the approach that Step Down Sunday isn't exclusively about reducing our carbon footprint, instead we try to balance ethical and environmental concerns.

Once you've looked into companies' ethics, you can feel completely overwhelmed. Ethical Consumer is a brilliant resource for those looking to make responsible purchases, but you still need to read their analysis thoroughly. For example, even though I'm vegetarian, I won't penalise a company for serving the meat sandwiches their customers want. So rather than blindly following boycotts, it's important to work out what you want to say.
Coffee shops are a prime example of this. The UK high street has three main contenders - Costa Coffee, Cafe Nero & Starbucks. Costa Coffee is owned by a UK company and serves Rainforest Alliance Coffee, but that is a limited proportion - usually 30%. Cafe Nero mentions fairtrade coffee on their website, but doesn't actually sell any. Starbucks on the other hand uses 100% fair trade coffee in all their standard espresso drinks.

Starbucks however loses a lot of support due to their American employment practices. While I in no way support those practises, but it strikes me that their UK business is a different beast. Starbuck's only uses fair trade as standard in their UK shops, so I think we should support that effort. When Starbucks looks at their annual report, I want it to show that fair trade coffee (and treating their employees reasonably) really paid off, so they'll consider adopting the practise around the world!

There will still be logicistical problems, I'd guess the UK market is less than 1/50th of the US market, yet Starbucks is already the world's biggest purchaser of fairtrade coffee. They'll need to find a lot more suppliers if they want to serve fairtrade coffee across America, but that's a problem I'd love to see them solve.

Obviously not the perfect answer, Ethical Consumer would recommend you go with Costa Coffee instead, but personally I don't think boycotting in the UK will improve Starbucks employment practises in the United States. However I think we can make a huge impact on how profitable fairtrade coffee is seen to be by all three of the big name coffee shops!

Step Down Sunday
Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.