Activists across the globe join international call for Starbucks to play fair

Published: 18 December 2006

Supporters worldwide join campaign for Starbucks to recognize the rights of Ethiopian coffee farmers.

Activists from Sydney to Seattle demonstrated today outside Starbucks stores to protest against Starbucks' refusal to recognize the rights of Ethiopian coffee farmers, as part of a day of action to send a message of solidarity with Ethiopian farmers to the coffee giant.

More than 89,000 people in 70 countries have now joined Oxfam's campaign by faxing Starbucks CEO Jim Donald, asking the company to stop dragging its feet and to support Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names. Today's international action is further proof of the strength of support worldwide for Ethiopia's attempts to help millions of farmers who produce world-class coffee but who continue to live in poverty.

"The strength of feeling about this issue is obvious from the number of Starbucks customers who have spoken out already,” said Seth Petchers, Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. “Knowing that farmers only receive around 10p from a $4 (£2) cup of coffee leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.”

"Starbucks must demonstrate that their much publicized commitment to the welfare of the farmers who provide it with world-class coffee is genuine by acknowledging Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names and signing the agreement on the table."

On 26 October, Oxfam launched a campaign to encourage Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement with Ethiopia. The agreement would acknowledge Ethiopia’s ownership over its specialty coffee names, Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Ownership over the names would result in greater control over how the beans are marketed and the price of the beans, which would ultimately result in a great share of the profits getting back to the 15 million poor people in Ethiopia who are dependent upon the coffee sector.

For more than a year, Ethiopia sought a dialogue with Starbucks about supporting the country's efforts to return more of the price of its coffees in world markets to the farmers who produce them by seeking trademark rights for Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe coffees. Despite its professed commitment to farming communities, Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia's requests to resolve the trademark issue, and has refused to sign a royalty-free licensing agreement that would recognise Ethiopia's right to control how its own coffee names are used.

A press release issued by the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office shortly after a meeting late last month between the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Starbucks CEO Jim Donald acknowledged that while the meeting with Starbucks was an encouraging step, “Starbucks has not yet recognized Ethiopia’s trademark ownership of the specialty coffee names…”

Legal and intellectual property experts have supported Ethiopia in its approach, expressing the opinion that the trademark and licensing project is a viable solution to the poverty that plagues Ethiopian farmers. Trademark protection for Ethiopia's coffees has already been recognized in several European countries, as well as Canada and Japan.

In addition to public events, activists throughout the world will be taking individual actions and visiting their local Starbucks to talk to baristas about the Ethiopian trademark issue.

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Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Helen DaSilva, Oxfam Press Officer,
+1 617-728-2409
+1 617-331-2984 (mobile)

Matt Grainger, Oxfam Press Officer
+44 (0)1865 339 128
+44 (0)7730 680 837