May 14, 2007

Starbucks Exploits Migrant Workers! (again) [LINK]

As noted in an earlier post, Starbucks offers a program allowing 18 lucky customers each year to travel to Central America to engage in unpaid back-breaking labor "on steep slopes," all in the interest of environmental sustainability. This year's printed brochure goes a step further: "winners" will work at CoopeTarrazú, a coffee plantation that in turn is a major supplier to Starbuck's.

Isn't that a bit like McDonald's offering customers a chance to travel to Idaho to harvest potatoes used to make their french fries? Shouldn't these people at least get a year of free coffee or something other than the promise of a "meaningful" or "relevant" experience? If the coffee producer were found to have benefited from underpaid labor on the part of migrant Indians coming in from the jungles of Nicaragua or Panama, wouldn't that put their product's status as "fairly traded" in serious question? (In fact, the region's coffee is among the world's most expensive, due in large part to the Costa Rican government's intervention on behalf of producers.)

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