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Starbucks Idea of Fair Trade in Ethiopia: A Day's Pay is a Dollar

  • Promises and Poverty
    Starbucks calls its coffee worker-friendly - but in Ethiopia, a day's pay is a dollar
    By Tom Knudson
    The Sacramento Bee, September 25, 2007
    Straight to the Source

GEMADRO, Ethiopia - Tucked inside a fancy black box, the $26-a-pound Starbucks Black Apron Exclusives coffee promised to be more than just another bag of beans.

Not only was the premium coffee from a remote plantation in Ethiopia "rare, exotic, cherished," according to Starbucks advertising, it was grown in ways that were good for the environment - and for local people, too.

Companies routinely boast about what they're doing for the planet, in part because guilt-ridden consumers expect as much - and are willing to pay extra for it. But, in this case, Starbucks' eco-friendly sales pitch does not begin to reflect the complex story of coffee in East Africa.

Inside the front flap of Starbucks' box are African arabica beans grown on a plantation in a threatened mountain rain forest. Behind the lofty phrases on the back label are coffee workers who make less than a dollar a day and a dispute between plantation officials and neighboring tribal people, who accuse the plantation of using their ancestral land and jeopardizing their way of life.

"We used to hunt and fish in there, and also we used to have honeybee hives in trees," one tribal member, Mikael Yatola, said through a translator. "But now we can't do that.   When we were told to remove our beehives from there, we felt deep sorrow, deep sadness."

View the Sacramento Bee online news video of the story here


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