Students show concern about Starbucks

With a painting of the blind lady of justice somewhat resembling the Starbucks emblem at their side, some members from the Alliance of Concerned Students Monday urged people walking by the coffee shop giant in front of the Library to demand fair labor practices and a better selection of organically grown products.

Starting their campaign around 8 a.m., various students set up a table full of food, jasmine tea and organic coffee in front the Library. Sporting a shirt with the words “Equality, Justice and Peace” on his back, James Duncan, a USF sophomore who took part in the event, said school should be about education not profit.

“Corporations, such as Starbucks and Burger King, should not be able to take over USF,” Duncan said.

Duncan later said that the event was organized to improve working conditions for coffee plantation workers among other complaints.

Charles, a USF junior who would not disclose his last name and who helped organized the free coffee and tea event, said the purpose of the event was to show an alternative to what Starbucks has to offer. Charles said most of the coffee Starbucks buys is produced by people who work in deplorable conditions. In addition, Charles claimed that the big coffee corporation is not fully supporting the fair trade movement.

“We demand that if Starbucks is going to be on our campus that they buy coffee that is insured through fair trade certification that they provide (coffee farmers) fair wages and that they live in acceptable conditions…conditions that (Americans) take for granted here in the U.S.,” Charles said. “It is a very reasonable request (on) our part.”

According to Starbucks’ official Web site, the Fair Trade Certified label verifies that the farmers that grew the coffee received a premium price above the prevailing market prices. In addition, Fair Trade Certification provides consumers with a guarantee that the Fair Trade price was paid for the product and it was purchased from one of the cooperatives listed in the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) registry.

Regarding the students’ claims, Jason Gray, assistant manager of the Starbucks at USF, declined to answer any questions but did say it was the group’s choice to hold such an event.

Even though local management did not want to comment, Christina McPherson, communications representative for Starbucks Coffee Company, had plenty to say regarding the students’ claims.

McPherson said Starbucks is one of North America’s largest retailers of Fair Trade Certified coffee since forming an alliance with TransFair USA in April of 2000. She added that the Trade Certified coffee is also available in Starbucks’ Foodservice and licensed stores in colleges and universities across the United States.

Although Starbucks’ official Web site states that more than 25 percent of its college and university accounts are brewing Fair Trade Certified coffee, a search to account the availability of the aforementioned coffee around the university’s radius on proved that there were no Fair Trade retailers in the area.

Concerning the extra charge for organic milk and soy milk, McPherson just said there are different ways customers can customize their beverages.

She added that Starbucks will continue to review its non-beverage products in terms of ingredients and will make modifications or substitutions as appropriate and economically feasible.

The same group of students set up another “awareness” event Dec. 8 during finals week, in what turned out to be Starbucks’ grand opening week.

“We had a better turn out then,” said Jeremy Huffman, another member of the student organization. “We even had some people from Starbucks come outside and offer us some coffee, which we didn’t accept of course.”

Graduate student Akhlesh Mittal, who stopped by the table to receive a free cup of coffee and a bagel, ironically questioned the motives behind the organization’s event.

“If (these students) are making that kind of claim, there has to be a reason behind it,” Mittal said. “(These students) might be impartial on these issues because of personal experiences.”