Starbucks: A Socially Irresponsible Company

April 14th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

While there are so much joys in drinking coffee around the world, unfortunately, what goes on in the lives of humans who produce the coffee is not very glorious.

Do advertisements promoting corporations’ good social responsibilities lure you to buy their products so that you are feeling good about supporting the workers and making good contributions to the world?  Sure!  I would be attracted to buy products from those places that promote this kind of advertising.  However, through my extensive research, I have concluded that many companies are promoting propaganda through publicity to maximize their profits.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Toyota, a manufacturer of vehicles, which publicizes itself as creating the ‘greenest’ car on the planet, is truly socially irresponsible as the company advocates against raising miles per gallon standards.

Starbucks loves to promote that its company is the most socially responsible and takes part in fair trade.  Their visually appealing commercial is an example of Starbucks’ promoting their social responsibilities:

If we look beyond the publicity, Starbucks is really creating propaganda to attract customers to purchase their coffee.  Time magazine featured an article regarding how much farmers are reimbursed for the coffee they grow and sell.  In reality, even with Fair Trade in place,  farmers in Mexico and Central America see a very small increase in their wages.  It’s so little that many farmers’ “families have still been going hungry for several months a year.” Moreover, in some parts of the world, such as Sidamo, a province in the southern part of Ethiopia, where Starbucks purchases their coffee beans, children are seen working on the farms with their families to grow coffee beans.

I would be more than happy to see a higher price tag on Starbucks’ coffee and frappucchino to support the people who grow coffee beans.  However, some customers may not agree to pay a higher price, such as one customer who was quoted in the Time article:

“‘Fair Trade “isn’t the only reason I drink Starbucks, but it’s a big one,’ says Connie Silver, a nurse, sipping a large, $4.15 Frappuccino outside a Miami store. Asked if she’d pay, say, $4.50 or even $5 to help absorb higher Fair Trade prices, Silver raises her eyebrows and says, ‘Wow, these days, that’s a tough one.'”

Also realize that this customer may be an average American who is certainly attracted to Starbucks’ propaganda of Fair Trade.

Issues at Starbucks do not merely exist in the landscape of coffee growers, but also many workers have been fighting for their rights to have a union and work full-time and earn a living wage that would allow them to have a decent lifestyle rather than living at a poverty level.  According to some workers, Starbucks fails to pay a living wage and refuses to provide the workers a consistent number of hours and enough hours to earn a living:

“Starbucks refuses to guarantee baristas a minimum number of work hour per week; baristas thus face great difficulty budgeting for necessities like food, rent, and utilities. For example, a Starbucks barista may be assigned 32 hours of work one week, 25 hours the next week, and 12 hours of work the following week.”


Debbi Hook

April 14, 2010 at 7:49 am

My son has several Starbucks employees as friends and he states they are definitely not making a living wage, precisely for the reasons quoted. I’ve heard him complain about it for many years now. I’ve tried a lot of coffees and I do enjoy Starbucks Breakfast Blend more than others I’ve tried. It’s “just right” for my palate. It is one of the most expensive coffees at the grocery store and so I find it irritating that we would be contributing so little by the purchase of their product….to a fair trade/free trade living standard. So far as price increases…because they’ve already increased prices during a down economy… I find myself going less frequently to the Starbucks shop itself. That $4 cup used to be $3.50 just a short time ago. Starbucks started as a great little idea which got very out of control. The “little Seattle shop” concept couldn’t be maintained in corporate America…”they” became one of “them”. They over-grew and couldn’t support the number of shops they opened. I see empty Starbucks “little boxes” almost as frequently as empty “big box” stores that have gone on to bigger locales. For different reason, but with a similar result. Empty stores scarring the landscape.

Starbucks presents a dilemma…it has re-trended “going to a coffee shop” and “visiting” in America. My parents used to go to the coffee shop on the corner for coffee and a piece of pie. It closed as did others like it years ago. Then came Starbucks. My husband and I loved going to Starbucks and sitting on the soft comfy chairs and “getting away” from the kids. Students are in there studying using the free wireless. People are reading and sipping coffee. There aren’t many places like that any more … they don’t care if you just buy a coffee and sit there for an hour. There are lots of restaurants – but not many choices for “coffee shops”. It’s a dilemma.


April 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Hi Debbi,

Thank you for your very insightful comment and mentioning your son’s friends’ experiences at Starbucks. You are absolutely right that Starbucks has become “one of them” and they are scarring the landscape.

Their comfy chairs, free wireless internet, and their very good frappuccino are some of the main reasons why I said that I’m not going to stop going to Starbucks but rather pay more tip for the workers. Although, I really do wish that there are other good local/non-chain coffee shops near my house to where I could go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *