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Starbucks Releases Code of Conduct

U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, Guatemala Labor Update, 3 November, 1995

Starbucks Coffee Company has released their "Framework for a Code of Conduct." The Framework was officially released on October 20, 8 months after Starbucks first announced their decision to take up the challenge posed by the North America-wide grassroots campaign initiated by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project (U.S./GLEP) last year. The campaign called on Starbucks to adopt a code of conduct setting minimum standards for working conditions on overseas plantations from which they buy. During the intervening period, Starbucks devoted considerable resources to developing this first ever code of conduct in the agricultural commodities sector. The company also consulted with a wide spectrum of organizations with experience in codes from both industry and consumer groups, including U.S./GLEP.

The Framework represents the first effort by a U.S. commercial coffee company to begin setting criteria for coffee selection that go beyond quality and price to include the working conditions under which coffee is produced. As such, it establishes the critical principle that U.S. coffee companies can and should take responsibility for working and environmental conditions under which coffee is grown.

In addition to making statements limiting child labor, and supporting workers' access to safe housing and healthy workplaces, Starbucks code states that "we believe in the importance of progressive environmental practices and conservation efforts," "...wage and benefit levels should address the basic needs of workers and their families," and "...people have the right to freely associate with whichever organizations...they choose."

If implemented effectively, Starbucks' Framework will be a very important first step toward supporting the efforts agriculture workers around the world to improve their lives. U.S./GLEP also recognizes that in venturing into uncharted territory, Starbucks is doing something few major companies would be willing to risk.

U.S./GLEP maintains, however, that there are important shortcomings to Starbucks' current code. Perhaps most seriously, it lacks any reference to possible enforcement mechanisms such as discontinuing purchases from non-compliant suppliers. There is also no explicit support for the right to collective bargaining nor explicit opposition to discrimination, and there is no reference to consulting with workers' organizations in addition to producer groups like ANACAFE in developing a strategic plan for implementing the code of conduct in Guatemala.

Despite these limitations, Starbucks' code is a statement that the company considers itself publicly accountable for abuses and worker rights violations on plantations from which it buys. The media coverage of Starbucks' agreement to adopt a code of conduct and the language of the code itself means that concerned groups and individuals have new leverage to press for significant changes from the growers from whom Starbucks buys and to make Starbucks accountable for conditions on those plantations.

Next Steps

The most important next step will be to ensure that the Framework translates into concrete improvements for coffee workers. U.S./GLEP has proposed to Starbucks that they identify some situations in Guatemala, the pilot country for the code, where they will work to accomplish improvements over the next six to nine months. In addition, U.S./GLEP plans to:

Copies of Starbucks' Framework are available by contacting Jeanne McKay at Starbucks Public Relations at 206-442-7745.

U.S./GLEP is also encouraging individuals to contact Starbucks to congratulate them on their important first step and to express interest in seeing some concrete implementation of the code in the near future. Write Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks Coffee Company, PO Box 34067, Seattle, WA 98124-1067.