Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Is Starbucks a Modern-Day Slavemaster?

Is Starbucks a Modern-Day Slavemaster? by Paula Neal Mooney

Expect Starbucks to be in the news a lot more this year ever since the documentary called Black Gold roasted the coffee giant, claiming Starbucks pays pennies to the Ethiopians who slave away gathering the beans that turn into the delicious cafe mochas and such us Americans scarf down by the gallon.

Then Oxfam America conducted their Starbucks Day of Action last December. (Watch it here if all you see is a big ol' blank square below):

Then came Starbucks' bland response:

Public response to how Starbucks treats the coffee-growers in ensuing months will be interesting to watch. I think any charity that attempts to get corporate giants who aren't doing the right thing to do the right thing by the oppressed poor is good.

In the meantime, I also suggest personal culpability as well. Sure, folks will argue that a good portion of our tax dollars and the money we pay for products should go to the poor. But this, to me, seems like a smokescreen for selfishness.

Of course I know selfishness firsthand. The $60 I spent on hair weave could've fed some family for a year, no doubt. Each time I choose to spend lavishly on myself, I can't help but flashing back to that scene at the end of Schindler's Listwhere Schindler said "This watch...this watch...could've saved a life..."

At least every month I drive right by the beautiful Starbucks right up the street from me -- with its white clock tower that makes it somehow scarily resemble a church -- even though I'm jonesing for a Carmel Mac or something hot and stimulating.

Usually it's around the time of the month the 24 bucks has hit my account that goes to Christian Children's Fund to help Ireen, a little girl I sponsor in Zambia. I began giving when I heard about a different little African baby in 2004 that was raped at 10 months old. I was so upset that I could barely work that ready was I to jump on a flight to Africa.

I did what I could. Oprah -- God bless her -- opened a school in Africa. She does what she can with all her millions (or is it billions?) and we can do what we can with our dollars. Which includes doing more than shaking our heads at big greedy corporations getting rich off the poor, but also sending the 4 bucks we plan to spend today on a tasty frappucinco and sending it on over to a child that rarely smiles because she's so hungry instead...

Paula Mooney's Musings

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Bonnie Calhoun said...

That's one of the reasons I don't buy at Starbucks, and i too applaude Oprah for the school she built!

Have you heard any more about Rosey and the View...I see girlfriend was back on there again today, and Barbara was sitting in Rosey's empty seat!

Paula Neal Mooney said...

PRESS STATEMENT, LONDON, January 13th 2007.
For Immediate Use


The $6 billion coffee giant Starbucks accused the Black Gold
filmmakers of “incompletely” representing the work of the company, as
the critically-acclaimed film opened in Los Angeles last night.

Black Gold is the first feature-length documentary to be made about
the $80 billion global coffee industry.

The company was so concerned by the impact of the film, that they
posted a statement on their website urging customers to "feel good
about drinking Starbucks coffee.”

The company also defended the price it pays to coffee farmers stating
that "in fiscal year 2005, we paid 23 percent above the coffee
commodity price."

In response to the Starbucks statement, the filmmakers of Black Gold,
Nick Francis and Marc Francis said:

“We are surprised that Starbucks have gone out to discredit the film
again. This is not a film specifically about Starbucks, it's a film
about the winners and losers in the global coffee industry and it
shows the daily reality for millions of coffee farmers."

"We spent six months during the production trying to persuade
Starbucks to participate in the film to give them the opportunity to
explain how they buy their coffee and how they work in Ethiopia, but
they declined our invitation."

"In a subsequent meeting with five senior Starbucks executives at
their Seattle headquarters, we asked them to tell us the exact price
they pay farmers for a pound of coffee - but they refused to disclose

This new statement by Starbucks follows other statements that the
company has issued about Black Gold since its world premiere at the
Sundance Film Festival. One newspaper covering the film's premiere
commented that Starbucks mounted “a charm offensive” encouraging
journalists to interview company representatives about its practices
in Ethiopia.

Ahead of the UK premiere at the London Film Festival, Starbucks
issued a statement to all its employees and to the media accusing the
film of being “inaccurate" and "incomplete”

The Ethiopian government has different view of the film. HE Kassahun
Ayele, former Ambassador to Washington DC, and now ambassador to
Germany, said: “The timely film “Black Gold”, is living witness to
the exploitation of coffee farmers in Ethiopia. It shows the need
for Ethiopia and others to play a bigger role in the export of their
finest products.”

Oxfam America’s Abera Tola added: “Ethiopia's farmers produce some of
the finest and most sought after coffees in the world—including
coffees that have been sold under Starbucks' Black Apron Exclusives
line for up to $26 a pound—but receive only 5 to 10 percent of the
retail price.”

Towards the end of last year, Starbucks CEO Jim Donald flew to
Ethiopia to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi after the
company was accused of blocking Ethiopia's attempt to trademark its
famous coffee names which could earn country over $80 million dollars
a year.


For more information about Black Gold visit

The full text of the Starbucks statement is available here:

- Black Gold was released in the US in October and opened on Jan 12th
in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., Downtown
Los Angeles, 90071. TO CONTACT THE LAEMMLE GRANDE THEATER: / 213-617-0268

- To interview the directors of Black Gold, Nick Francis and Marc
Francis please contact:
- Stills from the film are available at:
- Film clips from Black Gold are available for broadcasters. Please

- Black Gold is being distributed in the US by California Newsreel. The film is produced by Speak-it Films in
association with Fulcrum Productions and the Doc Factory
- Black Gold will be released in the UK this spring.=

Paula Neal Mooney