More than 70,000 sign Oxfam petition calling on Starbucks to sign licensing agreement to recognize Ethiopia’s ownership rights

Published: 16 November 2006

As of today over 70,000 people have taken Oxfam’s online action urging coffee giant Starbucks to review its position in relation to Ethiopia’s attempts to claim ownership of the country’s most famous coffee names.

The public has mobilized impressively since Oxfam revealed the obstacles faced by Ethiopia to gain more value from its high quality coffee beans.

Ethiopia, an extremely poor country that produces some of the best coffee in the world, is trying to gain greater leverage in a supply chain that is weighed down by injustice and inequity and biased against producers. Control of its coffee names through trademarking would give Ethiopia a fairer share of the profits of the global coffee trade.

“It’s amazing to see how many people have been moved to take action,” said Seth Petchers, Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. “Engaging the public on this issue has been critical. People are not only showing their support of Ethiopian coffee farmers, they are also supporting Ethiopia’s ground breaking approach of using intellectual property rights to alleviate poverty.”

Legal and IP experts have supported Ethiopia in its approach, expressing that the trademark and licensing project is an innovative, viable solution that would give Ethiopia greater control over its coffee names. Ownership of the trademarks will give Ethiopia exclusive rights to its coffee names. This level of control will better help Ethiopia manage its brands to increase their value and, over the long-term, increase the revenue that is going back to Ethiopia’s coffee sector by giving the country greater control over the price of it’s highest quality beans.

Ethiopia’s efforts to obtain ownership of its coffee names is taking place in the much broader context of trade and the tremendous historical disadvantage faced by developing countries, particularly those that depend on commodities. Assets associated with intellectual property comprise an increasing percentage of the profits from international trade. In its effort to gain ownership over its coffees names, Ethiopia is employing the same strategy used by corporations to build brands through their ownership and capture a fair return on their equity.

Earlier this year, Ethiopia’s efforts to register two of its coffee names, Sidamo and Harar, with the US Patent and Trademark office were dealt a blow by protests filed by the National Coffee Association of America. Ethiopia is continuing to pursue its trademark applications for the Sidamo and Harar names in the U.S. At the same time, it is asking Starbucks and other companies to sign licensing agreements that immediately acknowledge the country’s U.S. trademark rights, including those that have yet to be successfully registered with USPTO. These agreements are royalty free to ensure that benefits go to farmers in the form of more valuable brands and, eventually, higher prices.

Since the launch of our supporter e-action, Oxfam has been in contact with both Starbucks and the Ethiopian government. “We hope that Starbucks and the Ethiopian government will be able to find a mutually agreeable solution that would truly benefit small coffee farmers,” concluded Petchers.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Helen DaSilva, Oxfam Press Officer
Tel: +1 (617) 728-2409, or hdasilva@oxfamamerica.org