Fair Trade: Notes From the Field

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”
-Robert Burns 

Sometimes, even the noblest consumers can’t put their values into action. Life is filled with obstacles: misleading advertising, prohibitive prices, et cetera. So here at FTL, we’d like to do our part in making your Fair Trade dreams a reality. We’re sending our correspondents out into field to see just how easy it is (or isn’t) to purchase the Fair Trade products we’ve heard all about. Check back as we explore this wonderful town–NYC–and all the socially just goodies it has to offer. Don’t let your commitment to Fair Trade, well, gang agley.


Walk around the city a bit and you just might notice an emerging chain of coffee shops. You know, the one with the fish-lady-queen-goddess? What’s it called again…oh yeah, Starbucks!

Unless you recently woke from a 19-year coma–like this guy–you probably know that Starbucks is the biggest name in coffee. You can’t sneeze in New York City without hitting a Starbucks.
Walking in, you’re surrounded by warm earth-tones and beautifully (if a bit illegibly) written quotes about friendship, commitment, and the rejuvenating powers of coffee.
So let’s grab a nice heartwarming cup of Fair Trade brew. Where to?

“Easy, right? Just step up and order a cup’a’joe!”

Not so, idealistic consumer.  Among the endless variety of coffees sold by Starbucks, only one blend is Fair Trade Certified (certification provided by TransFair USA), namely, Café Estima. So if you’re just looking for a bag of coffee to take home to your Fair Trade home, check the racks and find Estima. Proceed to counter etc…
What if you’re not in the mood for a bag of beans? What if you want (gasp) a cup of FT coffee? Well, here things get a little sticky. Every store chooses a “Coffee of the Day” from which they make all the day’s brews. Of course, given the many blends to choose from, your Starbucks probably won’t be serving Estima the day(s) you walk in.
But fear not! Here’s a little-known secret about shopping at starbucks. According to company policy, if you can find a bag of any particular blend on the racks at the store, you can hand it to the barrista and ask him/her to brew a cup for you. So as long as you can find a bag of Estima, you’re good to go. Just to prove it, here’s a letter I received from Starbucks when I inquired about this a couple years ago (slightly modified to accommodate posting):

From: “Customer Relations” <info@starbucks.com>
To: “Isaac Raisner” <izzermizzy@juno.com>
Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 15:09:27 -0700
Subject: Response from Starbucks Coffee Company – Case # 4481046

Hello Isaac,
Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

We strive to give customers the option of enjoying a cup of any of our available coffees in our stores, including a cup of Café Estima (Fair Trade Certified) coffee.
If, at any time, you would like a cup of brewed coffee other than those offered as Coffee of the Day, you may inquire if the store can accommodate your request in a coffee press. There may be times when our store partners are unable to accommodate your request for a particular coffee because of, for example, the crush of business and the realities of our fast-paced retail environment.

Thank you for contacting Starbucks. If you have any further questions or concerns, please email us at http://www.starbucks.com/customer or call (800)-235-2883 to speak with a customer relations representative.

Best Regards,

Colleen N.

Customer Relations


Starbucks Coffee Company

Voila! It’s that easy. Be aware that not all barrista’s have heard of this rule—matter of fact, most of them haven’t. Do not get upset at these barristas, do not shove a printout of this email in their faces. Rather, calmly explain to them what it is you want, maybe ask a manager to help. If they don’t understand, and 20 customers are showing their teeth behind you, be considerate. It’s not only the farmers we’re trying to respect.

Stay tuned for the next installment of…



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