WASHINGTON -- Over 60 Members of Congress are urging Starbucks and the
company that manages food services for the U.S. House of Representatives,
the Supreme Court and other institutions in Washington, DC, Maryland and
Virginia to only sell what is known as "fair trade certified" coffee, a
Starbucks blend that gives a real return to the farmers who grow it while
preserving the flavor and results coffee drinkers have come to expect from
the popular brand name drink.
Guest Services sells over 300 pounds of brewed Starbucks coffee each week
in their House of Representatives operations alone. Congressmen George
Miller (D-CA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are leading an effort to ensure that
every ounce of that coffee not only tastes good but is fair to the farmers
who grow the beans.
"We all know that coffee is big business, but it can also be an honest
business," said Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the
Workforce Committee. "By serving fair trade coffee in Congress, we would
send an important message that global trade can deliver quality goods and
services without the exploitation of workers, their children and the
environment. We want Guest Services to buy only fair trade coffee and we
want Starbucks to offer brewed fair trade coffee at all its retail outlets,
nationwide. Frankly, having access to fair trade coffee makes it clear
that the other coffee is unfair."
"Members of Congress and Hill staff have considerable reasons to start
their mornings with Fair Trade coffee," said Brown, a member of the House
International Relations Committee and the Senior Democrat on the Energy and
Commerce Health Subcommittee. "This brand of coffee yields small farmers
greater returns for their harvest, benefits developing economies, and
rewards businesses that observe strong environmental practices. It is
caffeine consumption with a conscience. I believe the message of social
responsibility connected with Fair Trade coffee should be an option in
cafeterias across Congress."
Staff from Miller and Brown's offices met last week with executives from
Guest Services and Transfair USA, the non-profit company that imports fair
trade certified coffee from Central and South America to the United States.
Guest Services is expected to discuss the lawmakers' suggestion this week
and issue a decision soon.
Transfair executives said that with one week's notice they could provide
enough fair trade coffee to Guest Services without sacrificing quality or
Farmers who grow fair trade coffee earn four times the amount of farmers
who grow non-fair trade coffee on the world market. Fair trade farmers are
paid $1.26 per pound. Non-fair trade farmers are currently paid
approximately $0.60 per pound for coffee but must turn about half of that
over to middlemen, known as "coyotes."
In their letter to Guest Services Director Elizabeth Stankewich, sent
today, the lawmakers wrote, "We believe that our Congressional staffers and
employees should have the opportunity to purchase Fair Trade Certified
coffee in our office buildings so that they can be sure that the farmers
who grew their coffee were compensated fairly... We believe that Fair Trade
Certified coffee offers a successful, market-based approach to ensure
workers in developing countries share in the benefits of globalization."
The lawmakers wrote that it is likely that the benefits of the switch to
fair trade coffee would come at little if any cost to consumers, perhaps as
little as one cent per cup of brewed coffee in House restaurants and coffee
Miller and Brown said they are gathering signatures on a second letter that
will be sent soon urging Starbucks to sell brewed fair trade coffee at all
of their 2,700-plus retail outlets in the United States. Currently,
Starbucks sells packaged fair trade coffee in its retail stores, although
it offers brewed fair trade coffee for several large institutional clients.
Regular Starbucks brewed coffee is offered by Guest Services throughout
its operations in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Fair trade certified coffee
is sold by several other U.S. coffee chains and is also sold in several
government buildings in Europe.
In addition to its economic benefits for farmers, fair trade certified
coffee offers environmental benefits as well. A larger percentage of fair
trade coffee is shade grown, reducing the incentive to clear cut new tracts
of land to grow more coffee. In addition, fair trade coffee growers are
paid a premium by purchasers if they grow organic coffee.
The following 61 Members of Congress signed the letter to Guest Services:
Reps. George Miller
Sherrod Brown, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Cynthia McKinney, Pete Stark,
James McGovern, Frank Pallone, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Michael Capuano, Earl
Blumenauer, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Neil Abercrombie, Peter DeFazio, Corrine
Brown, Tom Allen, Robert Wexler, Dennis Kucinich, Louise Slaughter, Maurice
Hinchey, Jerrold Nadler, William Coyne, Tom Barrett, Rosa DeLauro, Ted
Strickland, Mark Udall, Diana DeGette, Patrick Kennedy, Bill Pascrell, Lynn
Rivers, Nancy Pelosi, Marcy Kaptur, Jose Serrano, Lynn Woolsey, Lane Evans,
Edolphus Towns, Bernie Sanders, Tammy Baldwin, David Bonior, Chaka Fattah,
Hilda Solis, Albert Russell Wynn, Mike Honda, Jesse Jackson Jr., John
Tierney, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Major Owens, William Delahunt, Carrie Meek,
Lloyd Doggett, Bennie Thompson, Gary Condit, Peter Visclosky, Janice
Schakowsky, Richard Neal, Charles Gonzalez, Donald Payne, Julia Carson,
Daniel Weiss with Rep. Miller at 202/225-2095 or
Ted Miller with Rep. Brown at 202/225-3401