Starbucks opposes Ethiopia’s plan to trademark specialty coffee names that could bring farmers an estimated $88 million annually
Oxfam urges company to review strategy and sign licensing agreement
Global coffee giant Starbucks has opposed a plan by Ethiopia to gain more control over its coffee trade and a larger share of the earnings for millions of coffee farmers living in poverty, international agency Oxfam revealed today.
Last year the Ethiopian government filed applications to trademark its most famous coffee names, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Securing the rights to these names would enable Ethiopia to capture more value from the trade, by controlling their use in the market and thereby enabling farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. Ethiopia’s coffee industry and farmers could earn an estimated $88 million (USD) extra per year.
$6 billion company Starbucks prompted protests against the applications to be filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has denied Ethiopia’s applications for Sidamo and Harar, creating serious obstacles for its project.
Seth Petchers, Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead said: “Starbucks’ behavior is indefensible. The company must change tactics and set an example for others by supporting Ethiopia’s plan to help millions of struggling farmers earn a greater share of the profits.”
“Intellectual property ownership now makes up a huge proportion of the total value of world trade but rich countries and businesses capture most of this. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, and one of the poorest countries in the world, is trying to assert its rights and capture more value from its product. It should be helped, not hindered,” said Ron Layton, chief executive of Light Years IP, a Washington DC-based intellectual property rights organization that is helping to advise the Ethiopian government.
"Struggling Ethiopian coffee farmers should be able to realize a greater portion of the value our coffee commands on the international market,” said Fitsum Hailu, of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC. “This project is innovative – and a unique opportunity for our farmers to be empowered in the arena of international trade."
If Ethiopia successfully trademarks the names of its specialty coffees, farmers could earn more from them, making a vast difference in the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. In contrast, the few extra cents per pound would hardly make a dent in Starbucks’ profits, which reached over $3.7 billion last year.
"Coffee shops can sell Sidamo and Harar coffees for up to $26 a pound because of the beans’ specialty status," explained Tadesse Meskela, head of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia. "But Ethiopian coffee farmers only earn between 60 cents to $1.10 for their crop, barely enough to cover the cost of production. I think most people would see that as an injustice."
Starbucks intervened in the USPTO decision by prompting the National Coffee Association of USA, Inc. (NCA), of which it is a leading member, to oppose the approval of the trademarks.
At a meeting held this past July at the Ethiopian Embassy, Embassy staff and advisers met with the NCA president to discuss a letter of protest filed against Ethiopia’s trademark applications. Ethiopia had submitted its applications about one year earlier. According to staffers, when asked why after a year of doing nothing the NCA had decided to take action, the president of the NCA told them Starbucks had just brought it to the NCA’s attention.
Ethiopia is continuing to pursue its trademark applications in the US. At the same time, it is asking Starbucks and other companies to sign voluntary licensing agreements that immediately acknowledge the country’s ownership of the coffee names, regardless of whether they have been issued a trademark. The licensing agreements will allow Ethiopia to pursue its strategy of enhancing its trading power and earning an expected additional $88 million per year for its coffee sector, including millions of poor coffee farmers.
The Ethiopian government presented an agreement for Starbucks to sign in September, recognizing the country’s rights to the names Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe and stating that additional benefits generated would go to small-scale coffee farmers who are currently living on the brink of survival. However, Starbucks has yet to respond affirmatively.
Oxfam is calling on Starbucks to show leadership for other coffee companies by immediately recognizing Ethiopia's rights in this case and signing the licensing agreement.
"Starbucks works to protect and promote its own name and brand vigorously throughout the world, so how can it justify denying Ethiopia the right to do the same?" asked Seth Petchers.
For more information, or to set up an interview with Tadesse Meskela, Seth Petchers, Ron Layton or Fitsum Hailu, please contact Helen DaSilva at email@example.com, +617-728-2409 (office) or +617-331-2984 (cell).
Thx @Food_Tank! Proud 2b in 40 Orgs Shaking Up the Food System list @IFADnews @millenniuminst @OneAcreFund @ONECampaign @rocunited @FAOnews34 min 29 sec ago
RT @oxfamgb: Good news of £30m extra funding from @DFID_UK for #Syria. Still need more aid from others & big push for a peace. http://t.co/…41 min 8 sec ago
US pushes Europe to amend arms #embargo on Syrian rebels http://t.co/B8KYe8VNQn #SyriaCrisis @StateDept @WilliamJHague @eu_eeas @OxfamEU1 hour 18 min ago
+80,000 ppl have been killed & several million displaced since the #SyriaCrisis began; #EU must extend arms embargo http://t.co/JlpzH9egf71 hour 47 min ago
RT @Katie_Nguyen1: Another arresting headline from @katymigiro 'Chips for sex: Oxfam explores the lives of #Kenya’s hungry millions' http:…2 hours 7 min ago
RT @liviafirth: 1 empowered woman can spark a positive change for her whole community @Oxfam @thecircle_oxfam #SparksthatFly @eco_age2 hours 26 min ago
RT @Karl_Schembri: #Syria children nxt to newly installed water tap outside 1 of 48 new wash blocks by @Oxfam in #Zaatari Camp, #Jordan htt…3 hours 4 min ago
The #ArmsTreaty can create a safer future for millions, but first it needs signatures. Urge the US to sign! http://t.co/4YUsIawus74 hours 53 min ago
#EU foreign ministers must bite the bullet & extend the arms #embargo on #Syria http://t.co/rL80yARiSt #SyriaCrisis #ArmsTreaty11 hours 22 min ago
RT @OxfamIreland: Ireland pledges €2.5 million in aid to Mali to contribute to reconstruction http://t.co/wvUzsRsHoD via @IrishTimes #Mal…18 hours 50 min ago
As @UN Disaster Risk Reduction Conference ends, worth checking #GPDRR13 for great tweets from @unisdr @UNOCHA @Federation et al19 hours 21 min ago
RT @UNOCHA: Only 3% of all #humanitarian aid was allocated towards disaster prevention & preparedness measures in 2012 - http://t.co/cT0OwU…19 hours 24 min ago
As food scandals hit the headlines, is food safety a casualty of today’s high & volatile #foodprices? http://t.co/Yuh7N0RUtN19 hours 50 min ago
RT @OxfamAmerica: Our deepest sympathies to @DivineChocolate on the loss of Christiana Ohene-Agyare, Pres. of Kuapa Kokoo in #Ghana http://…20 hours 44 min ago
What success at the #G8 would look like: 'We’ll stop hurting our brothers & sisters' http://t.co/yjtQNoc64W #land #taxjustice21 hours 39 min ago