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Congressional Reps Endorse Fair Trade Coffee

U.S. House of Representatives
August 8th, 2001

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 supply.

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 shops.

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, Donna Christensen.

Daniel Weiss with Rep. Miller at 202/225-2095 or
Ted Miller with Rep. Brown at 202/225-3401