Action Alert from the Organic Consumers Association

Starbucks Under Fire: The Frankenbuck$ Campaign

By: Ronnie Cummins


Dear Friends,

First of all, thank you for your efforts and support in the launch of our strategic and precedent-setting Starbucks campaign. On March 20 (M-20) several thousand "Frankenbuck$" volunteers took to the streets and sidewalks across North America, picketing, protesting, and leafleting in front of Starbucks coffee shops in over 100 cities. In a number of cities and college towns, activists staged press conferences enlivened by colorful signs, street theater, and powerful speakers. In Seattle 100 protesters rallied and cheered the speeches of campaign spokespersons--in front of a solid bank of TV cameras and news reporters--outside the building where Starbucks was holding their annual shareholders meeting. Even in cities where we had just a few leafleters, we made our presence felt, making contact with Starbucks customers and generating news stories which reached thousands of people.

Since M-20, leafleting and other pressure tactics have continued in a number of communities, with strong indications that the campaign will soon catch fire in Canada, Japan, and the UK. For a summary of local reports and news coverage in many of these 100 cities (bear with us, we are still posting them) go to the Starbucks section of our website

During Earth Day week April 15-22 we are encouraging activists to leaflet Starbucks once again on a nationwide basis. If you are willing to leaflet Starbucks customers in your local area please email and we¹ll send you some leaflets and posters.

Extensive Media Coverage

By the end of the first week of activities, the Starbucks campaign already had generated over 750 newspaper articles, TV news clips, and radio reports, all the way from National Public Radio, Pacifica Radio, Associated Press, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, to scores of college newspapers and community radio stations. Over 50,000 Consumer Warning leaflets have now been distributed to Starbucks' customers by our campaign. The website of the campaign received over six million hits in March, which means that thousands of people are going to our site every day. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of people across the US, Canada, and Europe have now heard about our campaign. And of course this negative publicity has Starbucks worried. On March 28 we were attacked in both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times newspaper, a sure sign that we are starting to make an impact. As we said in our national press release for M-20, this is the largest consumer campaign ever launched in the US around the issues of genetic engineering and Fair Trade.

Starbucks Rattled

Even before March 20, Starbucks began to react in a manner that indicates they are taking our campaign quite seriously. In a nationally syndicated story filed by the Associated Press and Dow Jones on March 16, the CEO of Starbucks, Orin Smith, was quoted to the effect that "the company was hoping customers would be given the choice of growth hormone-free milk by late this summer." As Smith stated, "If I've got 10 percent of my customer base that's concerned about this issue, I'm concerned." National Public Radio and other radio stations echoed the same news story. Starbucks faxed and mailed a letter to the OCA and our campaign allies on March 16, implying that they intend to "source an adequate supply of high quality Fair Trade Coffee to enable us to provide brewed Fair Trade Coffee as one of our 'Coffees of the Day' in our stores."

However a close reading of Starbucks' official March 16 statement reacting to our campaign (published on Starbucks' website as well on our own) makes it clear that their positions up until now on rBGH and brewing Fair Trade coffee may be more accurately classified as public relations statements, rather than concrete declarations that the 32 million gallons of milk they buy every year soon will be completely rBGH-free or that they intend to brew Fair Trade coffee as the coffee of the day everyday in their 3500 coffee shops worldwide.

Starbucks' Claim That the OCA is Being Intransigent

Starbucks representatives claim that we are unwilling to meet with them. This is not true. We have been talking to them over the telephone and will continue to do so. We are willing to formally sit down and meet with them and negotiate the details of how they can implement the policy changes we are calling for--as soon as they demonstrate that they are acting in good faith. To demonstrate that they are acting in good faith:

(1) Starbucks must stop saying that they believe that genetically engineered recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is safe, and that it's only a perception problem on the part of a minority of their customers that rBGH is hazardous. We have asked for Starbucks executives to meet with one of America's top scientific experts on rBGH, Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union. So far they have not contacted Dr. Hansen. For background information on the hazards of Monsanto¹s Bovine Growth Hormone, see the rBGH section of our website.

(2) Starbucks must address the genetic contamination of their chocolates, baked goods, and bottled coffee beverages. In their public statements up until now they have totally ignored our demands on removing GE ingredients from these products. To meet our concerns they must agree to source non-GE or organic ingredients (including soy, soy lecithin, corn sweeteners, and cooking oils) for their chocolates, baked goods, and bottled beverages. Once they can guarantee that they are using only non-GE or organic ingredients, then these products should be labeled as "GE-free," in a manner similar to the labels found on Ben & Jerry's ice cream and other non-GE natural food products.

When we called Starbucks' head office in Great Britain on March 26, they told us that all the food and beverages in their 170 UK coffee shops were ³GMO-free.² (Free of genetically modified organisms). They also admitted to us that in the UK they are not selling Fair Trade coffee packages. Our obvious response to this disclosure is that if they can sell food and beverages in the UK which are free of genetically engineered ingredients, then they can certainly do the same thing in North America and the rest of the world. And of course they need to start brewing, selling, and promoting Fair Trade coffee in Europe, as well as in North America and the rest of the world.

(3) Starbucks must stop claiming that the reason they're not brewing Fair Trade coffee as the flavor of the day in all of their 3500 cafes worldwide is that there's not a large enough supply of Fair Trade or organic coffee. Starbucks knows as well as we do that there is a massive supply of Fair Trade and organic coffee in the world waiting for a buyer right now. As the human rights group Global Exchange has pointed out, one-half of the world's supply of certified Fair Trade coffee (16 million pounds annually out of a total production of 32 million) is now having to be sold on the commercial market at a loss--simply because coffee buyers like Starbucks aren't buying enough of it.

Independently owned coffee shops across America and Europe are brewing Fair Trade and organic coffee and serving it up as the flavor of the day. Starbucks can certainly do the same. Many of these coffee shops are also using milk and dairy products which are either organic or labeled as rBGH-free, and serving organic baked goods or sandwiches. The ethical bottom line is that millions of the world's 25 million coffee producers are producing coffee the way it should be grown, sustainably and organically. These coffee farmers need and deserve a mass market and a fair price for their labor.

(4) Starbucks says they give lots of money to charities and that they are socially responsible. Again they are avoiding the real issue. We are asking them to put in writing that they will raise the wages and improve the working conditions of the impoverished coffee workers who toil on the plantations of their suppliers. A study referred to by the US Guatemala Labor Education Project (USGLEP) in Guatemala in 1997 found that entire families of coffee workers on the plantations supplying Starbucks and other companies were typically making a grand total of $1.25 per day, while a Guatemalan family needs at least $10 a day to survive. USGLEP estimated in 1997 that for Starbucks to guarantee subsistence level wages for plantation workers it would cost the company a mere penny a cup more for their coffee. This is outrageous behavior for a company that pays its CEO, Orin Smith, $60,000 a week, and which rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits every year.

(5) Starbucks has said they aren't using genetically engineered coffee beans at the present time. We simply want them to put in writing that they will never use them.

We are happy that Starbucks seems to be taking our campaign seriously and that; at least on the level of rhetoric, they are moving in the right direction. Now we need a clear and unequivocal response to our demands. Are they or are they not willing to get rid of GE ingredients, brew up Fair Trade coffee everyday, and put into practice a code of conduct which will improve the wages and working conditions of coffee plantation workers?

In the meantime the Organic Consumers Association and our allies intend to go forward with Phase Two of the Starbucks Campaign, as outlined below.

Phase Two of the Frankenbuck$ Campaign: Expanding Internationally While Keeping Up the Pressure in the USA

We are on the road to winning the Starbucks Campaign, but we need to expand globally and continue the pressure in the USA. We can do this by (a) expanding the campaign to Canada, Great Britain, and Japan--places where Starbucks already does a lot of business--and (b) applying continued pressure in several hundred communities across the USA. Our campaign staff has initiated discussions with our counterparts in Canada and the United Kingdom, and will soon be placing calls to activists in Japan and other nations to initiate a pressure campaign against Starbucks. We have already seen a few protests in Canada (Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Waterloo, and Montreal) and expect we will see more in the upcoming weeks. Two respected Canadian public interest groups, the Sierra Club of Canada and Rights Action, have already endorsed our campaign.

In the USA we suggest that the following tactics may be the most fruitful:

(1) Keep leafleting, but after you or others organize an initial media event in your community, carry out follow up actions unannounced. One tactic that works is to show up at a Starbucks location, preferably at their busiest time of day. Go inside and see if they are brewing Fair Trade coffee as the "flavor of the day" and listing this fact prominently where customers can see it. See what kind of milk they're pouring into their lattes and mochas. If they're not yet "doing the right thing," discreetly give all the customers in the cafe a copy of our Frankenbuck$ Consumer Warning leaflet and then walk out and do the same thing (or have a friend do the same thing) at another location. Standing outside and leafleting customers is still a good tactic, especially out in front of Barnes & Noble bookstores (which have Starbucks inside) or in the Student Center cafeterias of college campuses, which have Starbucks outlets.

(2) Call every Starbucks café in your community on a regular basis. Have your friends do the same thing. Ask the manager or the person in charge if today they are brewing Fair Trade coffee as the Flavor of the Day and advertising this fact to their customers. Ask them what kind of milk, skim milk, and half and half they are using, and if they have a written statement from the dairy that these products are free of genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone. Ask them the same thing about their chocolates and baked goods. If they answer your questions in the negative, tell them you are going to boycott them until they do what consumers are demanding. Tell them the name of the coffee shop where you will take your business instead. If they claim they are doing the right thing today, go down to their café, or have someone you know do this, and see if they are telling the truth. If you are a coffee drinker and need a fix, request that they brew you a Fair Trade coffee, but tell them to hold the rBGH milk please. Keep in mind that Starbucks claims it will supply organic soymilk for your coffee upon request.

(3) Complain to retailers that sell Starbucks products that the company has not implemented the changes that consumers are demanding.

(4) Get your school, college, or city council to pass a resolution that they will serve Fair Trade or organic coffee, avoid foods contaminated with GE ingredients, and avoid doing business with sweatshops factory sweatshops or agricultural sweatshops in the field.

If you need Starbucks leaflets or other campaign materials call our national office (218-226-4164) or send an email to < <>>

You can also help us cut expenses by downloading and printing your own leaflets and posters from our website and making copies. If you need coaching or advice on how to carry out Starbucks campaign activities contact Starbucks campaign coordinator Simon Harris

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to support the campaign, send your contribution to:

Organic Consumers Association

6101 Cliff Estate Road

Little Marais, MN 55614

As you can well imagine this campaign is costing us a lot of money.

Again thanks for all your hard work and support, and congratulations in advance for participating in a campaign that we are going to win.

As our counterparts say south of the border: Hasta La Victoria Siempre! Until the Final Victory

Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association


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