By Don Rojas
Thousands of activists, Ethiopian-Americans and coffee lovers in more than a dozen countries-from New Zealand to Scotland to the US-visited
Starbucks stores on Saturday, December 16.
Activists from Seattle’s Ethiopian community, local group Fair Trade Puget Sound and Oxfam demonstrated outside the Westlake Center Starbucks in Seattle to protest against the company’s refusal to recognize the rights of Ethiopian coffee farmers. This was part of a day of action to send a message of solidarity with Ethiopian farmers to the coffee giant.
More than 89,000 people in 70 countries have now joined Oxfam’s campaign by faxing Starbucks CEO Jim Donald, asking the company to stop dragging its feet and to support Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names. Last Saturday’s international action is further proof of the strength of support worldwide for Ethiopia’s attempts to help millions of farmers who produce world-class coffee but who continue to live in poverty.
In Seattle, activists leafleted and carried the image of an Ethiopian coffee farmer on sandwich board fronts, with the backside reading, “For every cup of Ethiopian coffee Starbucks sells, Ethiopian farmers earn 3 cents. Tell Starbucks: Honor your commitments to coffee farmers.”
In addition, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony took place in the city’s Westlake Park. A traditional part of Ethiopian culture, the ceremony is often done for visiting friends or on holidays, and is considered a blessing for those participating.
“The strength of feeling about this issue is obvious from the number of Starbucks customers who have spoken out already,” said Seth Petchers, Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. “Knowing that farmers only receive around three cents for a three- dollar cup of coffee leaves a bitter taste with customers.”
“Starbucks must demonstrate that their much-publicized commitment to the welfare of the farmers who provide it with world-class coffee is genuine by acknowledging Ethiopia’s own
ership of its coffee names and signing the agreement on the table,” concluded Petchers.
On 26 October, Oxfam launched a campaign to encourage Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement with Ethiopia. The agreement would acknowledge Ethiopia’s ownership over its specialty coffee names, Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Ownership over the names would result in greater control over how the beans are marketed and the price of the beans, which would ultimately result in a great share of the profits getting back to the 15 million poor people in Ethiopia who are dependent upon the coffee sector.
For more than a year, Ethiopia sought a dialogue with Starbucks about supporting the country’s efforts to return more of the price of its coffees in world markets to the farmers who produce them by seeking trademark rights for Sidamo, Harar and Yi
rgacheffe coffees. Despite its professed commitment to farming communities, Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia’s requests to resolve the trademark issue, and has refused to sign a royalty-free licensing agreement that would recognize Ethiopia’s right to control how its own coffee names are used.
A press release issued by the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office shortly after a meeting late last month between the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Starbucks CEO Jim Donald acknowledged that while the meeting with Starbucks was an encouraging step, “Starbucks has not yet recognized Ethiopia’s trademark ownership of the specialty coffee names.”
Legal and intellectual property experts have supported Ethiopia in its approach, expressing the opinion that the trademark and licensing project is a viable solution to the poverty that plagues Ethiopian farmers. Trademark protection for Ethiopia’s coffees has already been recognized in several European countries, as well as Canada and Japan.
In addition to public events, activists throughout the world will be taking individual actions and visiting their local Starbucks to talk to baristas about the Ethiopian trademark issue. To take action, please visit, www.oxfamamerica.org/starbucks