Gallagher: At Starbucks, convenience trumps ethics

It's time our campus started buying into fair trade. After all, fair trade, supported by various grass roots groups and governmental organizations, strives to ensure farmers receive a fair wage for their work.

As consumers we have the chance to make an impact. Next to oil, coffee is the second most traded product in the world and over the last two decades Starbucks Corp. has built itself an empire on the profitable bean. Now that Starbucks has made its way to Geneseo, it's time we ask ourselves what it is that makes us crave Starbucks and why fair trade is such a prevalent topic on campus. Over the last month I have spoken with students to find out why.

After talking to students around campus, I found one thing certain: The convenience of Starbucks is unrivaled. Aside from its location, the options they offer cannot be matched anywhere else on campus. "From smoothies to lattes, they simply have it all." Another student replied, "I like knowing I have a choice when I go there." Students also credited the atmosphere. For them, it provided a place to go to hang out with friends and kill time in between classes.

When asked about fair trade, however, students replied tentatively on the issue. They didn't appear apathetic toward the idea of fair trade – they just didn't seem to know all that much about it. Most of the people I informed about fair trade liked the idea of supporting its cause, which raises an important question: If people would be willing to purchase fair trade why is it not being advertised? Perhaps it's because Starbucks doesn't want us to know. For example, Café Estima Blend, the only fair trade coffee sold at Starbucks on our campus, is only available every other week. Anytime lattes and Frappuccinos are ordered the coffee used to make a shot of espresso is never fair trade either, even though they want us to believe it is.   

Maybe putting a little pressure on Starbucks is the solution – if students are willing to make the effort. Take Europe as an example: Pressure from consumers has pushed Starbucks to use only all fair trade coffee including espresso shots used for lattes. Nonetheless, in America fair trade has become subsumed with small grassroots campaigns and alternative trade organizations but has never really surfaced within mainstream establishments. Perhaps we should make it an issue at Starbucks.  

Although alternative trading organizations have provided the American consumer with an option, there is a hitch. For all those who do not have time to brew their own coffee, purchasing coffee from ATOs can be a hassle especially when you can just run into Starbucks and be out within five minutes. When it comes down to it, Starbucks has the convenience, the options and the glamour that so often takes the place of quality and responsibility that alternative trade organizations work so hard to establish.

That's why I beseech all coffee drinkers to demand Starbucks raise their standards; corporations, after all, only change when there is change in the consumer.