At Halloween peeking behind the mask of Starbuck’s shadowy chocolate sustainability

Blog: At Halloween peeking behind the mask of Starbuck’s shadowy chocolate sustainability

Sydney Jones

Press Secretary

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Carole Mitchell

Sr. Director Communications

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At Halloween peeking behind the mask of Starbuck’s shadowy chocolate sustainability  

October 27, 2023

By: Julian Oram

In August 2023, Mighty Earth and its coalition partners Be Slavery Free, Freedom United, and Green America  wrote a letter to the Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan, asking his company to come clean on their cocoa supply chains in West Africa.  Our letter became a petition, which has since been signed by over 180,000 people, calling on Starbucks to follow through on its sustainability commitments on cocoa, and to be transparent about where exactly it sources its cocoa from.  So, as we approach Halloween, what has Starbucks done to unmask its shadowy cocoa supply chains? 

Shortly after we launched our campaign in July, Starbucks posted a story on its website, detailing how it’s committed to responsible sourcing for cocoa and that it will report on its progress next year.  All well and good, but it made the very same commitment last year, and we’ve yet to see evidence of this translating into to real change on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire, where its sources its cocoa for its chocolate products. The reality is the company seems to have little understanding of where its cocoa comes from, or the conditions under which it was grown. 

Still in the dark on sustainable cocoa 

Despite repeated requests by Be Slavery Free, Freedom United, Green America, and Mighty Earth, Starbucks has failed to provide credible plans to eliminate child labor and deforestation in its cocoa supply chain, or publish a living income strategy for farmers. The average cocoa farmer earns less than $1.20 a day leaving them well below the extreme poverty line of $2.15 per person per day. While it has produced an action plan for improving its cocoa sustainability as part of its commitments under the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, it has yet to provide any information about its progress towards these commitments. Worryingly, the company still also provides no information on where, exactly, its cocoa even comes from. This renders Starbucks’ claims about sourcing sustainable cocoa meaningless.  

 Bumper profits 

Starbucks did participate in the 2023 Chocolate Scorecard after refusing to take part the previous year, but it needs to go further, faster. Other major cocoa buyers are using traceability tools to identify and publish lists of their suppliers. It’s not as if Starbucks doesn’t have the resources. Its gross profit for the twelve months ending March 31, 2023, was $23.061B, a 6.57% increase year-over-year. 

Starbucks workers unite 

It’s not just cocoa farmers who are not being properly remunerated for their work. Starbucks’ workers across the United States have been joining forces and unionizing to fight for core demands, including better pay. A survey by Starbucks Workers United found that 93.2% of employees said they weren’t paid enough to support their households, while 81.7% said they were unfairly compensated for their work. Allegations of sexual and racial harassment, unfair discipline, and workplace favoritism have also been leveled by Starbucks workers. In the US, unions are actively organizing events to expose these injustices, demanding fair treatment for Starbucks employees. They’re calling on the company to agree to a national operating framework to standardize conditions across all Starbucks stores. 

Starbucks masquerades as a caring company, but what lies behind the mask is much scarier. Deforestation, child labour, farmer poverty and workers’ rights are huge problems and we’ve yet to see any evidence to show that Starbucks is properly getting to grips with these issues. Starbucks needs to come out of the shadows and stop ghosting on its sustainability commitments. 

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