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Take the Starbucks Challenge!

The OCA has been working with these Starbucks Challenge bloggers for several months and our blog has the Starbucks Challenge posted on it, so you can post your experiences there.  It is syndicated to the other Starbucks Challenge websites. Visit the OCA blog at: http://organicconsumers.org/chat/viewtopic.php?t=354

Santa Monica Mirror

Challenging Starbucks'

April 13, 2006
Anna Cummins,
Mirror Contributing Writer

Last year, Starbucks Coffee Company went on the record and claimed that it would brew a fresh cup of Fair Trade coffee for you, if requested, in any of the countries in which it served Fair Trade coffee. Even if they weren't brewing it that day, they said, they would French press a cup for you. It was part of their commitment to encouraging and supporting Fair Trade practices, part of an overarching goal to increase their corporate social and environmental responsibility.

Every year huge, multi-national companies proudly publish their corporate social responsibility reports. These slick pamphlets announce to shareholders and other interested consumers the company's recent steps taken to better our world. The Starbucks report heralds their commitment to Fair Trade, to fostering diversity in the marketplace, to using cups that are comprised of post-consumer recycled content. These are strong and important initiatives. It is a good idea, in this age of transparency and corporate negligence, to highlight these actions and to market the company as responsible and forward-thinking.

Corporate social responsibility reports are often met with a heavy dose of public suspicion. Many of us wonder how likely it is that the company will remain staunchly dedicated to practices that are often less economically profitable in the short run. In the Starbucks case, brewing a cup of coffee by hand would also decrease worker productivity.

It is clear that social and environmental responsibility is becoming a cornerstone of today's marketplace and will be critical to corporate success over the long haul. During the transition, while we sift through the press releases, many of us will continue to question the veracity of these claims. But few of us will take the time to investigate the truth.

Unexpectedly, the ability to take these companies to task is getting easier. In the case of the Starbucks Fair Trade claim, two women sought to probe the authenticity of that commitment and used the Internet to make a significant impact.

The grassroots campaign, known as the Starbucks Challenge, was started by two bloggers: Green LA Girl and City Hippy. The premise was simple:
walk into your local Starbucks, ask for a cup of Fair Trade coffee, note the ease (or difficulty) with which your request is met (or denied), and post your results on one of the two blogs: greenlagirl.com or cityhippy.blogspot.com.

I took the Starbucks Challenge a half dozen times and became fascinated by it. I love that one can engage in a policy-shaping campaign while getting a morning fix.

In my experience (and I share this with numerous others), taking the Challenge has usually gone something like this:
Challenger: "Hi, can I get a cup of Fair Trade coffee please?"

Barista: "Actually, today we're brewing the Italian roast"

Challenger: "Yes, but I'd like the Fair Trade blend. May I please have that in a French press?"

Barista: "Um...a) we're out of Fair Trade; b) it'll cost you more; c) I can't find the French press; d) I don't think we do that."

None of these responses, as the campaign founders are quick to point out, is in any way due to barista negligence, but rather illustrates a problematic/emblematic disconnect between corporate policy and on-the-ground implementation.

Green LA Girl and her British counterpart City Hippy employed the exploding domain of free, internet publishing - blogging - to mobilize an activist-hungry public, and test the policy's efficacy the "old fashioned way": door to door. Participants have "challenged" Starbucks across the country and posted their experiences. The two bloggers, in turn, have engaged in ongoing communication with Starbucks headquarters, helping to highlight the problem, to find solutions, and to make Starbucks truly uphold its commitment to social responsibility. The challenge continues.

Take the Starbucks Challenge!

The OCA has been working with these Starbucks Challenge bloggers for several months and our blog has the Starbucks Challenge posted on it, so you can post your experiences there.� It is syndicated to the other Starbucks Challenge websites. Visit the OCA blog at: http://organicconsumers.org/chat/viewtopic.php?t=354