Friday, December 12, 2008

Is Starbucks Good Enough for the White House?

My colleagues at are promoting an "Ideas for Change" conversation/competition in which citizens can submit an idea for a policy or program, discuss it with others, and vote on the best ideas from around the country. Just before Inauguration Day will host a major event in Washington, DC and deliver the top 10 rated ideas to the Obama Administration. Then there will be a national lobbying campaign rallying around the winning ideas. (This photo is a group of Obama voters--I'm the one with the t-shirt and cupcake--after voting in the presidential election)

Here on my blog, on the left-hand side, you can vote for one of these ideas: declaring the White House a Fair Trade Zone. As catchy ideas go, this one is great. But as we mobilize interest and votes, I also want to throw out some questions. For instance, being a Washingtonian I know folks who work in the executive branch. They tell me that Starbucks is what is brewed at the White House, at least for official events. So, would it be enough for those voting for this idea to have Starbucks provide one of its Fair Trade blends in the White House? If so, this could be a pretty simple switch and we could spend our efforts using the moment to educate the Obama family and their staff as to why Fair Trade is important. OR, we could first get the agreement for Fair Trade coffee period, and then suggest a cupping so the Obama Family could chose their own preferred blends, including options from the fully committed world of Fair Traders who roast nothing but Fair Trade.

In other words, what do we mean by "Fair Trade zone?" What's enough commitment from the new residents of the White House? And will we stop at coffee? What about tea? Bananas?

As an incrementalist, I am leaning to the easy "win" of having the White House catering staff ask Starbucks to serve their Estima and proudly show the Fair Trade certified label. BUT....I wouldn't want any superficial acceptance of the idea by staff, without backing it up with education and an opportunity to highlight those companies that go beyond Starbucks commitment, and to get other items, including non-certified crafts, in the door. To be declared a Fair Trade town, a community has to meet a set of criteria. What level of commitment will we challenge the White House residents to embrace?

I'd welcome comments about the best approach here or at And, of course, check out all the ideas ( is concerned with a range of progressive issues) and cast your votes!


  1. Jackie,
    I'd vote for going all the way for a fair trade organization. I love Starbucks for flavor and variety, but they only have one line of fair trade coffee (Estima, I think) and it's not very good. Starbucks only took it on reluctantly and has never promoted it. Plus in their eyes, "Fair Trade" only means the base price. It does not mean long-term commitments, access to credit during lean times, and democratic principles (the other parts of fair trade). They are at present trying to redefine fair trade to their own liking, something that could undermine the movement.

    Besides, there are a number of very fine and well known fair trade companies out there (Equal Exchange, Deans Beans Newman's Own, Grounds for Change, Just Coffee, etc.), so they couldn't be lacking in options.

    I personally would suggest trying to get them to go with Equal Exchange, which is the largest and a head to head competitor with Starbucks. They also are the official fair trade coffee of the Obama's Church, the United Church of Christ, and have seen it served during "coffee hour" while back in Chicago, so it's familiar to them.

    Keep up the good work. Anything I can do to help, let me know.

    Stan Duncan

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on Starbucks, Stan, and the great idea to connect the coffee that the Obama family may have encountered at their place of worship with this initiative. I certainly like Equal Exchange coffee--it is what my own house of worship serves--and know the could definitely go head-to-head quality wise with Starbucks. But if we are going to push for beyond Starbucks because they lack a true commitment to Fair Trade, I think we should give some of the other fully committed Fair Trade companies a shot by doing a cupping that gives a range of possibilities to choose from.

    If this initiative works (don't forget to vote) then I think we could really make this an example of how Fair Traders are serious about their product and their business model.


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  4. Thanks for the good read, I will definitely return for an update!

    Trade Barter

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. One would think that a "senior adviser" to a Catholic organization might think measures that defend human life are worth suggesting, especially in light of President-elect Obama's atrocious record on abortion. But why bother with that when there's the price of bananas and coffee to worry about?

  7. Rich,

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and let me take this opportunity to let you know that this space is totally my own, reflecting my personal views on Fair Trade (and other topics). Although I am proud of the work of my employer in promoting economic justice, nothing on this site should be construed as reflecting the priorities or positions of that employer.

    Thank you for your understanding.


  8. So you've managed to separate your political life from your profession, then? That's an interesting feat when one considers that your employer is, again, a Catholic institution.

  9. Jackie,
    This may be more than you want to get into, but Rich's note was mean and sarcastic, and I don't really even understand it. Who is your boss, and how is he or she a "senior adviser" to a Catholic organization and what organization?
    I get it that he hates Obama and he thinks you've sold out because you work for someone who doesn't share his (and supposedly your?) hatred of abortion supporters, but I don't get the rest of it.