Starbucks in the Student Union has got to go

“Students at the University of Akron should wake up, act now and boycott Starbucks. The Student Union Starbucks isn’t a franchise – and the people that work there get paid less than franchise Starbucks employees. They don’t get the same benefits, either.”

Students at the University of Akron should wake up, act now and boycott Starbucks.

The Student Union Starbucks isn’t a franchise – and the people that work there get paid less than franchise Starbucks employees.

They don’t get the same benefits, either. So while working at a franchise-operated Starbucks is often a good job, working in the Union definitely isn’t. But would a boycott help them?

But that’s beside the point – Starbucks pretends to do a lot for third-world countries, supporting small farmers and sustainable growing practices. It doesn’t.

If you take a look at its Social Responsibility pamphlet, you’ll see that only six percent of its coffee purchases in 2006 were fair-trade certified. It also includes information about its C.A.F.E. program, which is its version of fair-trade certification.

But besides the coffee Starbucks buys fair-trade certified, the rest is purchased as free trade. In the coffee industry, that means that farmers get paid between 30 and 50 cents per pound for coffee that will sell at a retail price as high as $10-12.

Small farmers, like the ones Starbucks claims to support, do not have the benefits of an organized co-op, and are forced to sell to exploitative middlemen. Generally, the middlemen pay them less than half the export price.

Coffee is, in the world’s trading system, the second most valuable trading commodity (behind oil) and more than 10 billion pounds are exported every year from over 70 countries. Americans consume more than one-fourth of that amount each year – and Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the country. Its biggest competitor is Caribou Coffee, which is 1/25 its size.

Starbucks makes the most profit, too. Buying its coffee beans from those exploitative middlemen does the trick.

So why support it? Angel Falls Coffee occasionally has fair-trade certified coffee brewed in their store. And if they don’t, at least you’re supporting a local business rather than the corporate giant.

And if you can’t get out to Highland Square, walk to Aroma. They may not have fair-trade certified coffee brewed and waiting, but again – local business.

What effect would a boycott have? Starbucks could pack up and leave the Union, and we could bring in a local coffee shop – and convince it to brew fair trade coffee. Change can happen, but not if we continue to support the financial giant of Starbucks.

Can you imagine a Starbucks actually going out of business?

And while the employees at the Starbucks may lose their jobs, surely the locally owned coffee shop that would take its place would welcome them as new employees. If, for instance, Angel Falls Coffee opens up another shop here on campus, it will need employees who already know what they are doing.

In the meantime, go to the grocery store, buy fair-trade certified coffee and brew it yourself. Just don’t shop at Starbucks.