Archive for November, 2006
Starbucks continues to fight Ethiopia over the country’s plan to trademark the names of its coffees.
Starbucks doesn’t like the fact that Ethiopia plans to trademark the names of its most famous coffees.
There is a stunning hypocrisy here, going far beyond just Starbucks and Ethiopia.
For decades now Western corporations have been guilty of biopiracy around the globe…patenting genetic materials from food plants that have been grown by indigenous peoples for generations.
As one example, this year the University of California-Davis received a Captain Hook Award:
“For patenting a blight-resistant gene extracted from a rice variety developed by the Bela peoples of Mali, and for failing to deliver on the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund to benefit Mali’s farmers. The Philippines-based public plant breeding institute – the International Rice Research Institute – handed over the blight resistant rice sample to UC-Davis researchers in 1990. But when IRRI requested access to the blight resistant gene derived from the sample, UC-Davis demanded a $10,000 fee.”
Western companies, abetted by their governments, have been patenting plant genetics all around the world for a very long time.
And now, when Ethiopia takes a step to protect its own coffees by trademarking their names, Starbucks throws a tantrum.
As always, the West wants to take everything, and give nothing.
U.S. companies and academic institutions continue to seek control of the developing world’s basic food plants through patents, but fights when any of those countries seeks legal recourse to protect its own assets.
Whatever the outcome, Starbucks will come out looking like a large corporate bully, and its brand will suffer. And quite rightly so.
As Douglas Holt of Oxford University puts it, quoted from this Times article:
“In their rash attempt to shut down Ethiopia’s applications, [Starbucks] have placed the Starbucks brand in significant peril. Starbucks customers will be shocked by the disconnect between their current perceptions of Starbucks’ ethics and the company’s actions against Ethiopia.”
The headline to this post comes, more or less, from an article in Mother Jones by Bill McKibben.
What he actually wrote, with Wal-Mart in mind, was, “There’s something gross about buying a healthy carrot from a sick company.”
And no, I wouldn’t buy fair trade coffee from Wal-Mart or from Nestlé. I wouldn’t buy it from Starbucks either. For exactly the reasons McKibben writes about.
In that one sentence I think McKibben has put his finger on a fundamental guideline for anyone who supports fair trade, organic foods, buying locally or any other green initiative.
It’s no just the products or produce you buy that matters. Consumers can also make a difference by being careful about which companies they buy from.
The future of fair trade and fair trade coffee lies in supporting companies which are involved not just for profit, but also because of a genuine, honest commitment to social justice.
Why support small coffee farmers by buying fair trade coffee from Wal-Mart when the company now has over 870 stores in Mexico, causing untold damage to local small businesses?
What would the Wal-Mart flyer say…”Buy here – Support a small coffee farmer and close a local business”?
To support fair trade in the long term we need to identify and buy only from those companies which are founded on a base of moral decency.