How Responsible is Starbucks' CSR Program?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 7:23 PM EDT

Campaigners pose as Starbucks employees outside flagship London storeStarbucks retail stores quietly display brochures that read "Social Responsibility: How is My Starbucks doing its part?" That's a hot question, it turns out. Those little brochures summarize all sorts of compelling figures from the company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) annual report, touching on improvements in sustainable farming, community involvement, environmental stewardship, and employee equity and diversity. For all the praise around Starbucks CSR efforts, however, there's another take on the matter. An AlterNet article by Liza Featherstone reports that Starbucks' baristas aren't entirely happy with their employer:
[In May], baristas in Grand Rapids, Michigan announced that they were filing a legal complaint against the company for violating their organizing rights through unlawful surveillance and other questionable tactics. All over the world -- Austria, England, Spain and Australia, as well as the United States -- Starbucks workers demonstrated in front of stores to protest the company's union-busting practices.
Along with the partner problems (Starbucks calls its employees partners), Starbucks' coffee purchasing practices are increasingly questioned. Early screenings of Black Gold, a film documenting coffee farming in Ethiopia to be released next month, incited an aggressive response from Starbucks representatives. Clips on YouTube chronicle both sides of the sustainable farming and fair trade debate.

In any case, social responsibility is a major issue for Starbucks' farmers, employees, and customers. It'll be interesting to see how the debate shapes up, and even more interesting to see how investors respond. Stay tuned.

(Image of Baristas Demonstrating by net_efekt, CC 2.0)