Starbucks Challenge

Through Google Maps Mania I came across The Starbucks Challenge. It’s an effort to use the web to hold Starbucks to their promise of providing fair trade coffee at the customers’ request.

The idea is that you request a cup of fair trade coffee, and blog about the response you get, posting an appropriately tagged link on They pull all those postings together, plot them on a map and communicate the results to Starbucks management.

Something to try next time Starbucks is the only option, as it was for us on Thursday (aka Thanksgiving) when all other coffee shops were closed and coffee and WiFi were required.


  1. They seem to be very aware over here. The Starbucks in our building always has fairtrade available and sometimes pushes it. They also make a point that fairtrade coffee is often simply a gimmic – that real commitment to the growers means more than buying coffee with a fairtrade stamp. For example – is fairtrade coffee damaging the environment? You need to do more than simply have the stamp. They claim that Starbucks is commited as a company to an ethical policy.
    They are suggesting that the global “fairtrade” brand is not the only one that has the growers at it’s heart. Interesting thought – do you only ever buy coffee with the “approved” logo – or do you buy coffee that is ethical?
    Does the US branding of Starbucks do the same? Or isn’t that a selling point over there (call me an old cynic)?

  2. They may do the same thing in some stores over here, but it’s very hit and miss (as is my knowledge of starbucks, as I avoid them when I can).

    One problem with that argument is that it only half works. The co-operatives that get fairtrade certification are much less likely to be using damaging factory farming methods than their non-fairtrade counterparts.

    Many of them also have organic certification, and I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence of others who want it but can’t yet afford the higher fees or haven’t had time to get through the length organic certification process.

    If Starbucks are really concerned to ensure fair trade is more than just a label, it’d be good to hear them working harder to advocate trade reform that would ensure environmental and labour standards. Otherwise the cynic in me wonders if it wouldn’t be to their advantage to dilute the fair trade brand.

  3. My first guess would be that they are using clever marketing to turn the arguments back on their oponents. But then they do claim to have been audited by some third party and awarded a gold star of some kind for their ethical approach to their business.
    Now organic – don’t start me on that branding.
    Wouldn’t it be interesting getting one of Starbucks reps on a panel discussion on ethical business?
    But ask yourself the question, if Starbucks are as good as they claim ethically would it be good to see their product dominating the market? I find myself conflicted (and they do have good coffee).
    I’ll ask for a statement when I go in tomorrow…

  4. As to market domination: note the link I used for their name in the original post 🙂

  5. I play a much more exciting game. Disliking, as I do, both the taste of all Fairtrade coffees I’ve sampled thus far and the feeling of being anything but ethically reprehensible, I prefer to decline the offer of Fairtrade coffee.

    Asking a barista if they sell Fairtrade coffee often leaves them looking bewildered (which is hardly a suprise, they should stick to law). For maximum confusion, wait for them to reply that they do and then make it absolutely clear you won’t drink it unless it’s “evil coffee”.



  6. Colin – I like the thought that awareness of fair trade may increase through the desire of baristas around the world to distinguish themselves from you 🙂