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CAFE principles: on sustainability and coffee

Regulation developed by the NGO Conservation International and Scientific Certification Systems, with the aid of Starbucks, to guarantee that coffee is sustainably cultivated and processed and that the farmers receive a fair salary for their crop in the international markets.

In 2001, Starbucks and Conservation International decided to launch a system for buying coffee in a responsible way, calling it Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices, CAFE.

These norms were designed, according to Starbucks, “to help us work with coffee farmers to ensure high-quality coffee and promote equitable relationships with farmers, workers and communities, as well as protect the environment”.

To become a supplier with the CAFE certification, interested farmers, processors and exporters need to comply with some minimum requirements and demonstrate them with their practices over time. According to Starbucks, “high-scoring suppliers receive preferential buying status, higher prices and better contract terms. “

In 2004, Starbucks decided to revise the parameters of “fair purchase” of the coffee provided in all their establishments worldwide with the help of the institution of independent certification Scientific Certification Systems, which since then has served as auditor of the CAFE norms.

Operation of CAFE

According to the explanatory pamphlet of Scientific Certification Systems, the CAFE practices have been designed “to ensure that Starbucks sources sustainably grown and processed coffee by evaluating the economic, social and environmental aspects of coffee production against a defined set of criteria… the guidelines are structured to verify that produced coffee meet environmental and social performance at each stage of the supply chain – from the tree to the point of shipment.”

The regulation contains 28 specific indicators referring to five fundamental areas: quality of the product, economic responsibility, social responsibility, environmental leadership in cultivation of the coffee and environmental leadership in their processing.

Producers and suppliers of coffee throughout the world, independently of their size, can access the documentation on the requirements established for the CAFE norms.

In 2006 Starbucks bought 53% of their coffee according to the norms that, despite being audited by an independent company, they themselves designed and helped to establish. In numerical terms, they went from 35 million kilograms (77 million pounds) bought under these principles in 2006 to 70 million (155 million) last year.

The American multinational also surpassed the average price paid per pound of coffee on the New York commodities market, increasing from $1.28 in 2005 to $1.42 in 2006. The average market price during the same period was $1.04.

For 2007, the firm headquartered in Seattle, Washington, plans for 60% of all their coffee to be purchased from suppliers that comply with the norms promoted by their own firm.

Starbucks and the Ethiopian producers: a heated controversy between Oxfam and Starbucks

It all began with the Starbucks decision to oppose Ethiopia‘s bid to trademark in the United States three varieties of their country‘s coffee: Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe.

The company was opposed to the idea that the authorities of the African country could oversee the registration, something they are able to do in the European Union and Canada.

According to Oxfam, an organization that also markets Ethiopian coffee worldwide with the Fairtrade seal (the international certification of fair trade), Starbuck‘s refusal prevents Ethiopian earnings of 88 million dollars per year which it could distribute among its farmers.

Accusations that Oxfam carried out with all its artillery: they sent press releases to the mass media and subsequently made them public domain.

Starbucks has issued various press releases which contradict, in an even harsher tone than that of Oxfam, the accusations of the multinational: “Oxfam is misleading the public and must end its campaign against Starbucks.”

“Over the last several weeks, Oxfam has accused Starbucks of not supporting the Ethiopian coffee farmer. Oxfam’s Campaign against Starbucks Coffee Company is misleading, does not help the coffee farmer and the campaign needs to stop.

“We share the goal of benefiting the Ethiopian coffee farmer; however, Oxfam’s position deflects focus away from the farmer.”

“While we respect Oxfam and its mission, we believe they are wrong on this issue.Signing a trademark agreement as Oxfam suggests will not help coffee farmers. In fact, it may hurt them if roasters stop purchasing Ethiopian coffees.”

“In direct discussions with Oxfam and the Ethiopian government, we offered alternative solutions and expressed that we want to collaborate with them to find a solution that will benefit the coffee farmer.”

The American company has continued to defend themselves against the Oxfam campaign with “facts”, argues Ashley Seager for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Objections to the CAFE practices

An article written by M. Six Silberman, of the University of Columbia, concludes, after a well-documented critique, that “it appears that the CP [Cafe Practices] do not guarantee a minimum price per pound to the grower, or even to the supplier. If this is the case, Starbucks has failed to act on the recommendations proposed by stakeholders in February 2004.”