business corporate responsibility fair trade

Starbucks’ Shared Planet

Starbucks have taken out great big ads in the paper today for the launch of their new Shared Planet coffee. It’s their version of Fairtrade, which is now available on most of their major lines. Credit to them for moving their ethical practices forward, but can anyone else see the irony of this logo?

Shared Planet ™? Surely it is an oxymoron to trademark sharing? You can’t lay corporate claim to the fact that we are co-habitants of planet earth. Or do they just mean sharing on their terms, and their own definition of ‘ethical’?

Still, cynicism aside, good for Starbucks for smartening up their practices, and I’d be interested to hear your views on it – is it good or bad that they’ve done their own thing rather than support Fairtrade? Is Shared Planet meant to be a competitor to Fairtrade? What about Conservation International’s involvement, does that suggest this is more motivated by the green agenda than the Fairtrade movement? Discuss.

You can find out more about Shared Planet ™ here



  • Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO: “I am proud to introduce our responsibly grown, ethically traded espresso to our customers. This espresso is an example of our commitment to doing business the right way: it is our assurance to customers that they are making a difference every time they enjoy their favourite espresso-based drink in their local Starbucks.”
  • Peter Seligman, Conservation International CEO: “By integrating the work of coffee farmers into its overall efforts to combat climate change, Starbucks is addressing head-on one of the most important issues of the day.”
  • Sarah Gilbert at walletpop makes a good point, that it depends which way you look. Compare Starbucks with an independent Fairtrade roaster and they could no doubt do more. Compare it to most supermarket coffee brands and Starbucks are suddenly angels.
  • Starbucks have recently announced that they are to double their purchase of Fairtrade coffee, the element of this initiative that was missing, in my view.


  1. It seems to me that is obviously their strategy to avoid using Fairtrade products. The Fairtrade Foundation monitors and guarantees the minimun ethical standards in all its schemes.
    But who is gonna monitor Starbucks’ Shared Planet? Starbucks itself?
    I can see a problem there.

    After “greenwash” we need to invent another term: “fairwash” because that just what it is, a façade.

  2. You do know that they are the single largest buyer of Fairtrade coffee in the world right? Easy to verify – go ask either Fairtrade or Oxfam. And you know that Starbucks pays on average a higher price for their coffee than Fairtrade right? I should know, I used to head up the Oxfam Coffee Campaign at Oxfam.
    And, in actual fact, the Starbucks standards are independently monitored by Rainforest Alliance and other 3rd parties. Their standards isn’t really theirs anymore either. It is a seperate entity. I do know that both Fairtrade and Starbucks have been talking about making sure that the “Starbucks” standards comply to Fairtrade and Fairtrade complies to “Starbucks” standards. Both have issues. Starbucks is asking for greater transparency in the actual amount that the farmers get from Fairtrade (or Starbucks for that matter.) They want documented proof that it is a sustainable price. You do know that Fairtrade can not and do not provide that right?
    Fairtrade is pretty good, but it does not answer all the questions. Go have a look at this post I wrote a while back. It highlights a few issues I have with them.
    And, oh – Fairtrade is also trademarked.

  3. You are exactly right angry african on all your facts. Starbucks, I think quite rightly don’t shout about it or ‘trade’ off the back of being ethical – like some companys! they have always been ethical and there is a corporate social responsibilty report every year that is verified. Starbucks has ALWAYS paid, per pound for it’s green coffee, a HIGHER price than the minimum Fairtrade guarantees, they are the world’s largest buyer of Fairtrade certified coffee, but only buy the top quality they can find, and I guess what to support everyone, and now pretty much they can say every bean the coffee company buys, sources or roasts is ethically traded, Fairtrade or Shared Planet. Fairtrade only include small farms, and Starbucks needs tons of high quality arabica coffee for 17,000 stores worlwide so they need a system for consistency in coffee and that includes medium and more importantly large farms that can’t participate in Fairtrade. And isn’t it the phrase Shared Planet that is trademarked, and why wouldn’t it be!? that’s common sense, like trademarking a name for a drink. Fairtrade is OF COURSE trademarked too.

  4. Sorry, I just found Shared Planet(tm) funny for some reason – wasn’t meant to be a statement on trademarking more generally. Obviously they need to protect their interests.

    I’m always in two minds with Starbucks. On the one hand they’re quite progressive, and seem to be using their huge buying power quite well. But then you see a film like Black Gold, where Ethiopian coffee farmers are at their wits end with Starbucks. Behind all the logos and the initiatives are real people, and if those real people aren’t better off then all the rest is a marketing sham.

    But, these things don’t fix themselves overnight, and I appreciate that Starbucks are moving forward on their ethics.

  5. @Jeremy. I couldn’t agree more. There will be holes in very system. Nothing is perfect. We cans strive and drive for it, but it will never be perfect. Let me give you two examples.
    1. I worked with a few Ethiopian coffee farmers on a Fairtrade deal and they complained to me that they can’t understand what the certification is doing and what they are paying. Why? Because the certifier was German and wrote everything in German without explaining it to them.
    2. While campaign for Oxfam we had one of our cooperative allies complain that they were only getting paid 50 cents by Starbucks and not what Starbucks said in their CSR report. We jumped on this! But it then came out that it wasn’t Starbucks buying the coffee it was Fairtrade. Starbucks bought the coffee from Fairtrade but also did additional work with the farmers. Starbucks was upset because they didn’t know the farmer got paid so little. You see, the Fairtrade system breaks the amount of $1.26 per pound into 3. One for the farmer, one for the cooperative and one for a “social project”. So in some cases the farmers get a very small amount of what is advertised. Not criticising, just saying that no system is perfect and there will always be holes. My biggest judgement is whether a company or initiative is willing to admit that it isn’t perfect and truly try to make it better. And both Starbucks and Fairtrade do that – they try to make it better. Not perfect. But they plug the holes as quickly as they can.
    On Black Gold. You should ask Fairtrade people who have worked with that farmer what they think of him. He heads up a cooperative so not strictly speaking the “farmer” we think of. He isn’t the most honest guy around. And go see what farmers in Ethiopia and Rwanda and other places are saying about Starbucks compared to say Kraft or P&G. Worlds apart. You want to find someone unhappy? Hell, I worked for Oxfam and I am unhappy!
    Lastly, sorry if I came across a bit over the top. Not meant to be like that. You are one of the good guys. Never stop probing and questioning. I know that the companies that really do care don’t mind that. They are open to talking and trying to fix it. I’ll give you the 5 companies that I think embody that – Starbucks, Levi’s, Timberland, Tiffany’s and Marks & Spencer. None of them are perfect. But I know that they are always willing to give it a shot. I have worked with most of them in the past. They are pretty good. Not perfect, but as good as we have at the moment.
    Aluta continua!

  6. Angryafrican
    WooHoo! For once someone who actually knows his stuff about coffee purchasing. Real Starbucks customers have know their buying policy for years. You’re right Starbucks isn’t perfect but as its grown its tried to do the right thing by everybody. It doesn’t always get it right but for a company of that size I think its great.
    As for Black Gold, I went to a screening of that and afterwards the guy who made it just kept going on and on about Starbucks; it was like he had some obsession with it and got really annoyed when i pointed out Starbucks only buys 2% of world production and wouldn’t his efforts be better focussed on the really big guys like Neslte, P&G and Kraft.
    Angryafrican, thanks for being so informative, i’m gonna have to let my local Starbucks know this web link!

  7. it’s just trademarking a phrase….to protect that umbrella and certification system. A name that’s all. I could trademark ‘my big knob’ if I wanted to, then shall we all debate i’m not allowed to as other people have big knobs too?

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