business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post writes that while "Starbucks has long pitched itself as a mindful seller of coffee and tea, publicizing its supply chain standards, sharing photos of farms around the world and assuring customers on its product labels that it is 'committed to 100% ethical' sourcing," there now is a legal challenge to that positioning.

"A U.S. consumer advocacy group is suing Starbucks for allegedly misleading customers with promises of ethically sourced products, despite procuring from farms and cooperatives that, the lawsuit says, have committed human rights and labor abuses.

"In the complaint, filed in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday, the National Consumers League alleges that producers in the coffee giant’s supply chain have a documented record of 'child labor and forced labor as well as rampant and egregious sexual harassment and assault.' The suit says Starbucks has 'unjustly benefited from branding itself as a leader in corporate responsibility' while hiding the 'true nature' of its practices.

"Starbucks plans 'to aggressively defend' itself against the allegations, Michelle Burns, executive vice president of Global Coffee, Social Impact and Sustainability, said in a statement Wednesday. 'Our commitment and our responsibility to build a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future for coffee is unwavering,' she said, calling their ethical sourcing program 'best-in-class'."

KC's View:

I hope, for Starbucks' sake, that it can defend itself effectively, because ethical sourcing is a key element in its brand proposition.  But if it can't, and if there indeed are places in which it has not walked the walk, the brand is going to take a hit.