Starbucks Sued for Allegedly Using Coffee From Farms With Rights Abuses While Touting Its ‘Ethical’ Sourcing

A consumer advocacy group is suing Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee brand, for false advertising, alleging that it sources coffee and tea from farms with human rights and labor abuses while touting its commitment to ethical sourcing. The lawsuit, filed in a Washington, D.C., court on behalf of American consumers, alleges that the coffee giant is misleading the public by widely marketing its “100% ethical” sourcing commitment on its coffee and tea products when it knowingly sources from suppliers with “documented, severe human rights and labor abuses.”

The lawsuit cites reporting about human rights and labor abuses on specific coffee and tea farms in Guatemala, Kenya, and Brazil, and alleges that Starbucks has continued to purchase from these suppliers in spite of the documented violations. Starbucks is aware of the lawsuit and plans to aggressively defend against the asserted claims that Starbucks has misrepresented its ethical sourcing commitments to customers. In response to the Reporter Brasil stories and reported labor abuses in Kenya and Guatemala cited in the lawsuit, Starbucks issued statements at the time that the company was “deeply concerned,” and that it would “thoroughly investigate” claims of labor violations, “take immediate action” to suspend purchases or “ensure corrective action” occurred.

Starbucks, like many companies, uses third-party certification programs to ensure the integrity of its supply chains for tea and cocoa. The company launched its own sourcing standards, called C.A.F.E. Practices, in 2004 to oversee its coffee sourcing in more than 30 countries. The verification program is administered by a company called SCS Global Services in collaboration with Conservation International. However, there have long been issues with how effective such programs are, according to experts. In 2021, Rainforest Alliance, the third-party that certifies Starbucks’ supply chains for tea and cocoa, was sued in D.C. court by another consumer advocacy group over “false and deceptive marketing” of Hershey’s cocoa as “100 percent certified and sustainable.” A judge ruled last year that the case could move forward only against Hershey, as the manufacturer of the products.

Genevieve LeBaron, director of the School of Public Policy at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, said the issue is not unique to Starbucks, but ethical commitments from large purchasing players like Starbucks can have an outsize impact on the integrity of supply chains if they are backed up. Starbucks has 10 “farmer support centers” in coffee-producing regions around the globe, including Brazil and Guatemala, but does not release public lists of certified suppliers, making it difficult to track how often its suppliers are found to be engaging in labor abuses.

Read More @ NBC

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