Cheat-Seeking Missles

Monday, November 27, 2006

Effete Elite Vs. The Third World

Starbucks ... the bane of the campus intelligensia.

You know, those Gaian fundamentalists who let millions die in Africa because they thought it more important to maintain the holy grail against DDT than to eradicate malaria?

Those exemplars of ethics who think it's more important to protect rivers than to bring better, healthier lives to primitive peoples?

Now they've got their Birkenstocks busted over Starbucks. Not that they've ever liked the fantastically successful example of all the benefits of capitalism, mind you. But this time they're on to something big: Starbucks' alleged efforts to squelch Ethiopia's desire to trademark the names of certain Ethiopian coffee beans.

The Times of London breathlessly reports:
Douglas Holt, the L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, accused Starbucks of hypocrisy and abuse of power and said that the company was in danger of damaging its name among its educated middle-class customers by opposing Addis Ababa’s attempts to trademark Ethiopia’s coffee varieties in the United States. ...

“In their rash attempt to shut down Ethiopia’s applications, [Starbucks] have placed the Starbucks brand in significant peril. Starbucks customers will be shocked by the disconnect between their current perceptions of Starbucks’ ethics and the company’s actions against Ethiopia,” he said.
First off why should we care a hoot about anything the L’Oréal Professor of Marketing has to say? Maybe if he was the Ultrabrite Professor of Economics ....

Oh, and for the record, Starbucks denies it's acting rashly to stop the trademark applications, although its statement shows they're obviously up to something:
We support the recognition of the source of our coffees and have a deep appreciation for the farmers that grow them. ... Starbucks has never filed an opposition to the Ethiopian government’s trademark application. As always, we are committed to working collaboratively and continuing dialogue with key stakeholders to find a solution that benefits Ethiopian coffee farmers.
Starbucks markets its beans by the names of the locales they're grown in, a practice Ethiopia's action threatens, so there's a dialog going on. Hardly anything to have a tweedy twaddle over.

But here's the point: If all the snobby educated middle-class customers of Starbucks were to take their caramel macchiato business elsewhere and they succeeded in smashing the company, here's just a bit of what their social consciousness would do for the Ethiopian coffee farmers:
  • Potentially cause them to no longer get premium prices for their coffee. Starbucks paid an average price of US $1.28 per pound, which was 23 percent above the average New York “C” price.
  • Continuing access to a pot of $400,000 Starbucks made available to Ethiopian coffee farmers for low interest loans.
  • Continuing Starbucks investments in Ethiopian infrastructure, like the $148K it spent last year to improve water reliability in coffee farming areas, and the $25K it spepnt building two bridges.
  • Improved medical care in town where rare coffee beans are produced, thanks to Starbucks grants to help fund new medical clinics. (source)
So what? Who really cares about the well-being of Ethiopian coffee farmers when there's an opportunity to prattle about about the ethics of a company that's actually doing someing for society ... as opposed to being the L'Oreal Professor of Marketing at Oxford?

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