Starbucks has a bigger problem than the controversy over its new red holiday cup. It's still buying palm oil and other agricultural products that might be linked to tropical forest destruction, and a coalition of science, environmental and labor organizations isn't happy about it.
Today that coalition sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (above) urging him to strengthen his company's procurement policy to ensure it doesn't contribute to deforestation, a significant cause of global warming. The commodities in question include wood, paper products and palm oil, an ingredient in a number of Starbucks menu items, including its Java Chip Frappuccino and Cranberry Bliss Bar.
The signatories on the letter include the Center for International Policy, Forest Heroes, the International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, the Sierra Club, SumOfUs and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In addition to the letter, more than 300,000 consumers have petitioned Starbucks to go "deforestation-free."
"Starbucks likes to promote itself as a responsible corporate citizen, but it lags far behind consumer and industry standards for protecting forests," said Lael Goodman, a UCS analyst. "To maintain its do-gooder reputation, Starbucks should permanently sever any connection to forest destruction by adopting a strong procurement policy that clearly spells out a timetable for implementation."
The company currently has a weak procurement commitment for palm oil, which comes mainly from Southeast Asia. Irresponsible growers there routinely destroy tropical forests and peatlands for plantations, producing fires that emit tons of carbon pollution, threaten the health of area residents, and endanger elephants, orangutans and tigers. This year, the haze from annual agricultural fires is the worst in 20 years, affecting more than 43 million people across the region. There have been 19 haze-related deaths in Indonesia so far, and hundreds of thousands of people have developed acute lung infections. But that's not all. Besides the damage the fires do to public health and the environment, plantation owners all too often appropriate land from local communities and exploit child and immigrant labor.