Help me buy ethically traded coffee
September 24, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between Fair Trade Certified coffee and Starbucks Shared Planet coffee?

I'm committed to buying coffee that is traded ethically, particularly in terms of fair compensation for workers. I usually buy Fair Trade Certified coffee, but I'm interested to know how other "ethically traded" designations measure up to Fair Trade standards. I'm particularly interested in Starbucks' new Shared Planet designation, because the Starbucks employee I spoke to said that all Starbucks coffee will soon be Shared Planet certified.
posted by epj to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
From what I understand, all coffee under Starbucks' Shared Planet program is supposed to be Fair trade certified.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2010

You might be interested in reading some of the debate about fair trade standards.
posted by proj at 2:52 PM on September 24, 2010

Fairtrade certification is the fair trade program with the best publicity and brand recognition. It includes a pricing scheme (a minimum price, or a premium over the market price, whichever is greater) and only certifies farming co-operatives, i.e. worker-owned farms. Some critics say that fairtrade, like other agricultural subsidies, can lead to inefficiency in the long term.

Starbucks™ Shared Planet™ is starbucks' ethical purchasing program, some of which is Fairtrade and some of which is "C.A.F.E.", a starbucks-only standard which starbucks developed with Conservation International.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2010

From what I understand, all coffee under Starbucks' Shared Planet program is supposed to be Fair trade certified.

I don't think that's correct.

Here's some graphical breakdowns of Starbucks' coffee bean sourcing in terms of certification type/lack thereof.

Explanation of the C.A.F.E. standard, Fair Trade Certification, and organic sourcing from Starbucks.

In 2009 Starbucks purchased 367 million pounds of coffee beans, 299 million (81%) of which met the C.A.F.E. Practices standard. That same year 39 million out of the total beans purchased were certified Fair Trade. Starbucks recommends the Estima Blend as a good Fair Trade selection. I personally recommend the Shade-Grown Organic Mexcio.
posted by carsonb at 3:05 PM on September 24, 2010

Oh yeah, there's also Just Coffee/Café Justo.
posted by carsonb at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shorter version:

"Fair Trade Certified" is an independent certification system.

"Starbucks Shared Planet" is a set of standards developed and controlled by Starbucks.

This is pretty typical. Whole Foods has their "Whole Planet" standards so they can avoid independently controlled standards. Depending on the ethics of the company implementing the standards and the effectiveness of the watchdogs, this can be okay or not so okay. It's certainly possible to argue about it at great length.
posted by alms at 4:54 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you all! This has been very helpful! Any thoughts on the value of the "Shared Planet" standards?
posted by epj at 5:16 PM on September 24, 2010

Here's an exploration/critique of the CAFE standards compared to Fair Trade. Couple of key bits:

-- [W]hereas organic and Fair Trade systems make it clear you must do X & Y, and you may not do P or Q, the C.A.F.E. system works on a point system that makes most anything optional, so long as you score high in another area.
-- Are you supporting a co-op, or a plantation owner? With FT coffee you are supporting a small farmer cooperative -- period... if it was sourced via the C.A.F.E. program, it might not have been grown by a co-op. And even if was co-op grown, it definitely was not co-op exported (whereas it always is under Fair Trade)... co-ops (like the Comon Yaj Noc Pic co-op I visited in Chiapas) must sell to a large corporate exporter (in their case AMSA) who in turn process and export the coffee... It was very telling that the co-op we visited sold 100% of their crop to Starbucks (via AMSA, of course), AND that organizationally they were very weak. They had very limited capacity to judge their own quality (AMSA does that), and no capacity to seek out other buyers if that were necessary some day.
-- With Fair Trade a grower will get, at minimum, a definite price... if they meet certain established, fixed criteria, assuming they can find enough buyers... Conversely, under the C.A.F.E. point system Starbucks has created a situation where coffee growers (including both plantations and co-ops) are in a constant struggle to score more and more social and environmental points, as that might move them closer to the front of the line of potential suppliers. Those in the front of the line get first right to sell to Starbucks... This means that while last year your co-op may have had the right to sell to Starbucks, and while you may have improved your social and environmental performance by another 5% since then, it may now not be good enough - if other growers improved by even more. While it's nice to see this kind of arguably "virtuous competition" it must be kept in mind that Starbucks makes no promise to pay any more for this coffee, even though more effort went into it, and more "good" was accomplished.

posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:36 AM on September 25, 2010

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