Ethiopian Coffee Farmers Fight Starbucks for more bucks

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Oxfam Urges Company to Review Strategy and Sign Licensing Agreement

Oxfam International (Boston)
October 26, 2006
Posted to the web October 26, 2006

Global coffee giant Starbucks has opposed a plan by Ethiopia to gain more control over its coffee trade and a larger share of the earnings for millions of coffee farmers living in poverty, international agency Oxfam revealed today.

Last year the Ethiopian government filed applications to trademark its most famous coffee names, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Securing the rights to these names would enable Ethiopia to capture more value from the trade, by controlling their use in the market and thereby enabling farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. Ethiopia’s coffee industry and farmers could earn an estimated $88 million (USD) extra per year.

$6 billion company Starbucks prompted protests against the applications to be filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has denied Ethiopia’s applications for Sidamo and Harar, creating serious obstacles for its project.

Seth Petchers, of Oxfam International said: “Starbucks’ behavior is indefensible. The company must change tactics and set an example for others by supporting Ethiopia’s plan to help millions of struggling farmers earn a greater share of the profits.”

“Intellectual property ownership now makes up a huge proportion of the total value of world trade but rich countries and businesses capture most of this. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, and one of the poorest countries in the world, is trying to assert its rights and capture more value from its product. It should be helped, not hindered,” said Ron Layton, chief executive of Light Years IP, a Washington DC-based intellectual property rights organization that is helping to advise the Ethiopian government.


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18 thoughts on “Ethiopian Coffee Farmers Fight Starbucks for more bucks”

  1. It is horrible that Starbucks won’t give the Ethiopian farmers more rights. I’m sure Starbucks would make enough money if it did this, but the farmers might be struggling without this help.

  2. I’m curious to know what Starbucks’ reasoning is behind their protest of Ethiopia’s plan. I can’t think of one good reason why they would not support a plan that would increase the country’s economic development. Well, I think I can think of

  3. I am a huge fan of starbucks but i think its extremely selfish of starbucks not to support the Ethiopian fight for more money. I agree with Seth Petchers in a sense that starbucks is a huge company which needs to set an example for other small company and i believe this would be a good way to do so. besides they have enough money to be this selfish is ridiculous.

  4. I am well knowledge with many business decisions and here I think Starbuck’s does not want Ethiopians to gain control over its coffee trade. They might feel it maybe dangerous for future references because then they can be strong enough to probably build their own market and beat out Starbuck’s because it has a larger market. Although this maybe a possibiltiy I feel Starbuck’s can strategize this better and still help the market still grow. I feel they are not negotiating they just act and feel that the plan is bad and there is no way around it.

  5. Surprise, surprise. A big corporation wants to make more money at the expense of someone else. While I think a poor country like Ethiopia does deserve an opportunity to make money, I am not surprise that they are acting this way.

  6. Starbucks is just one of many large corporations that take advantage of cheap labor in third-world countries. It’s just not fair – these giants make so much money off of these laborers, yet they can’t even pay them enough to feed their family. I read somewhere that in sweatshops affiliated with Disney, they would force the female workers to take birth control pills. Fewer children equals fewer people to support in a family, which equals less pay. It’s simply inhumane.

  7. This it the problem with society. Big business believes they can do whatever they want, without regard to anyone else, inlcuding people. Incredible

  8. I think that it is very unfortunate what Starbucks is doing to these Ethiopian coffee farmers. Starbucks is a very profitable company and should not have a problem giving these farmers what they deserve. When I hear things like this it makes me wonder if I should even drink Starbucks coffee anymore!

  9. This is an outrageous situation. As large of a corporation as Starbucks is, they should be doing something to help the continent, but this is just another clear case of exploitation. It is really sad that a company such as Starbucks could hold so much weight and shift the authority of the USPTO. How can the people of this Ethiopia, or any other country on the continent rid themselves of such control and manipulation that is inflicted upon them by countries like the US. Africa tries to take back what is rightfully theirs and are still not able to. The power imbalance is clear. Something need to be done about this.

  10. I dont agree with what Starbucks is doing. Instead of helping Ethiopia uplift themselves from poverty they are assisting in their distress. It is unbelieveable to me that a wealthy company such as Starbucks is unwilling to help the needy with obtaining a portion of the money from the coffee that is making Starbucks so successful.

  11. it is not suprizig that a big bussiness/ company is try to take over a smaller one. can these big bussiness such as starbucks help ethiopia with their money problem, by jobs, and bring in more money to the area.

  12. strategies like this for companies that have a big industry name wanting to take over smaller ones or countries supplies is something not out of the but its kind of messed up because their just being greedy and this country like this is very needy

  13. Once again, we see how large companies and businesses take advantage of small time businesses and entrepeneuring. Sometime of compromise, strictly benefiting Ethiopian farmers, needs to come into play.

  14. Does Ethiopia have no means of securing the rights to the three names?

    Not to negate the angle of this report, but Starbucks is the biggest purchaser of Certified Fair Trade coffee beans from several regions. I feel like Starbucks must have some other reason for not wanting to cough up $88 mil, since it is already taking hits to profit with the CFT coffee it purchases.

  15. It’s interesting to see that such a successful company has such dirt behind it. It’s awful to hear that the poverty level remains the same in Ethiopia. How would the company be affected if everyone banned Starbucks products?

  16. Starbucks is a multi-billion dollar company which has gained its status in large part from impoverished countries. It owes Ethiopia from exploiting them for years. What Starbucks is doing is insensitive and another example of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

  17. I am from Ethiopia and think that starbucks they want to be number one nationwide without ethiopia coffee. There is now way starbucks will be good without etiopian coffee so if Ethiopia quits then starbucks will change their minds.But remeber , anyone reads my comment please don’t say that it is apoor contry . Ethiopia is natrually a beautiful country I am 10 years old Ethiopian American I visited Ethiopia I did not believe we have this kind of beautiful country. because always the news writes that it is a poor place.

  18. Its shameful to see what Starbucks is doing to these naturally intelligent farmers. Considering the quality of the coffee, Starbucks should give the farmers credit for it and support them financially, which will encourage them to keep up the quality of the coffee. Ethiopia is a beautiful country; full of natural resource and one of the most exotic countries in the world. However, the lack of education seem to be the main reason why the country is not developed yet. New these days, the people are becoming more productive showing the catch-up effect. The country has became the fastest growing country in the world. I believe if the Western nations are really up to help developing nations as they are claiming, then spurring Starbucks to increase the farmers wage could make a huge impact within the country.

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