Starbucks Shared Planet: An introductory lesson about ethical coffee sourcing

Welcome to your introduction to Starbucks C.A.F.E. practices and Shared Planet; On Mystarbucksidea.com, the site is intermittently flooded with people who yell, "Starbucks needs to sell more fair trade coffee".  This blog post is in response to those cries for ethically sourced coffee.  Let's talk about coffee sourcing - this blog post is your very basic introductory blog about responsible coffee sourcing.  I might later write a more detailed discussion about C.A.F.E. practices. It is essential to realize that there is more than one way to ethically source coffee.  "Fair Trade" is a label.  That bears repeating.  It is just a label.  Coffee with other labels related to their sourcing are equally responsibly sourced.  Just because you don't see a "fair trade" label doesn't mean that it's not sourced with the utmost concern for farmer and environment.  Starbucks has adopted  the "Shared Planet" label as the label you can trust for responsible coffee.

First off, there is so much information that it is almost difficult to figure out how to compile it for an introductory ethical bean sourcing post.  Perhaps it would be wise to remind my readers that the lingo "Shared Planet" is really a new way of Starbucks describing what they already had been doing for over a decade - responsibly sourcing coffee.  Starbucks has always sought to pay more than the market price of coffee, and ensure that coffee beans were sourced ethically and preserve the biosphere of the farm region, but a turning point in how Starbucks accomplishes this came in 1998.

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Background: Organic Shade Grown Mexico Coffee, 1998

In 1998, Starbucks entered into a partnership with Conservation International, a non-profit organization, to develop a plan to responsibly source coffee from the Chiapas region of Mexico.  The goal of the partnership was to preserve the healthy shade canopy of the region's farms, and create sustainable farming practices for the region's farmers.  It was a three-year pilot program out of which Starbucks launched Organic Shade Grown Mexico coffee, and the participating farmers saw their income rise, received technical assistance from Conservation International field staff, and developed on-going trade relationship with Starbucks.  You can read more about the history of Organic Shade Grown Mexico on the Conservation International site, here.

This initial three-year pilot program grew into a long, on-going relationship with Starbucks that continues today.  In 2008, Starbucks agreed to another 5-year partnership period with Conservation International.

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C.A.F.E. practices - The next phase for Starbucks

From the experiences of working with Conservation International, Starbucks began to formalize and adopt its policies for coffee sourcing.  In 2003, again with the cooperation of Conservation International, Starbucks launched its first formalized and third-party verified coffee bean sourcing standards, known as C.A.F.E. practices.  It is important to note that Starbucks had always believed in ethically sourcing coffee, but previously did not have a rigid program and yard stick to measure how well they were living up to the goals for responsibly sourcing coffee.

C.A.F.E. practices stands for Coffee And Farmer Equity Practices.  Under C.A.F.E. practices, each participating farm is audited by third-party verifiers (meaning these are not Starbucks employees, but rather disinterested third parties) for compliance with a long list of standards. The 'standards' look at everything from compliance with local wage law to total hours worked by farm workers, to access to health care and education, to maintenance of buffer zones of water bodies on the farm.  The 'standards' scoring sheet is far too lengthy to reiterate here in full, but suffice it to say, each farm is scored on a broad array of topics relating to labor, environmental, and social responsibility practices.  Some topics on the 'score card' are considered zero-tolerance, and if the farmer fails in one of these areas, no matter how glowing his performance otherwise, the farm cannot be certified as a C.A.F.E. practices farmer.

C.A.F.E. practices continues today, and is still the program by which coffee farms must live up to to a certain standard to bear the "Shared Planet" symbol on the coffee packaging.  Starbucks incentivizes the farmers to constantly improve their C.A.F.E. practices scores with monetary incentives.  The general structure of the incentive is that with higher scores, the farmer will be paid more for his green coffee beans.

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What is Shared Planet?

Shared Planet is what Starbucks calls its program for comprehensive analysis and report for all of its "green" activities.  For example, Shared Planet reports on everything from the number of customers using a personal cup, to the percentage of stores which are LEED Certified, to donation and giving that Starbucks is involved in.  The coffee sourcing guidelines under C.A.F.E. practices are one piece of a larger plan as Starbucks strives to be a company with a social conscious.  For example, I heavily reference the Shared Planet report on my prior blog entry on the Starbucks personal cup and recycling:

In the Starbucks blogs on mystarbucksidea.com, in October 2008, Starbucks produced a good overview of the kinds of topics Shared Planet touches on and you can read that here:

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Why doesn't Starbucks buy all Fair Trade coffee?

Many people may hear about C.A.F.E. practices but still wonder, 'why doesn't Starbucks just buy all Fair Trade coffee?'  Fair Trade is a label, and farmers have to go through certification, and pay a Fair Trade association fee to be part of the Fair Trade.  Even the most responsible farmer who takes care of his workers and farm will never become Fair Trade certified if he or she decides that for whatever reason, not to pay the Fair Trade association fee.  The percentage of farmers who are Fair Trade certified is small, and there are not enough beans from Fair Trade farms to supply all of Starbucks needs.

It's important to know that how the coffee beans are sourced doesn't necessarily correlate to the quality of the coffee bean.  A responsible farmer using  C.A.F.E. practices, organic practices, Fair Trade certified may still produce inferior beans that Starbucks rejects as too low of quality.  The beans could have insect damage, mill damage, or for any number of reasons, not be of an adequate quality for Starbucks coffee buyers.

Starbucks produced a short essay on "Why Isn't All Your Coffee Fair Trade Certified?" and it is definitely worth reading:

In late 2008, Starbucks announced that they would nearly double their purchasing of Fair Trade coffee for 2009, increasing to nearly 40 million pounds of Fair Trade certified coffee.  Starbucks is the single largest purchaser of Fair Trade coffee.  You can read more about their commitment to expanding Fair Trade coffee buying here:

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Conclusion

That wraps up a very basic introduction to a couple of different ideas related to coffee sourcing with responsible means.  In conclusion: (1) There is more than one way to responsibly source coffee - it doesn't have to have a particular kind of a label (2) The sourcing guidelines don't necessarily tell you about bean quality and (3) Starbucks does support Fair Trade, but there is not enough Fair Trade beans to supply all their needs.  Any number of these topics might be expanded later for more detailed blog posts.  I also recommend that you read the prior blog entry on Sumatra sourcing, which has some unique aspects to it:

The magic of Aged Sumatra and Sumatra

StarbucksMelody gets a custom card!

A place to pour out coffee: Drains at condiments stations at Starbucks