Now, Starbucks has begun to pursue trademark rights for its Ethiopian coffees – Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar – despite those names describing geographic regions of Ethiopia that have been producing coffee for hundreds of years. The Ethiopian government has objected to this...
The Ethiopian government has objected to this, asking Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement that will allow Ethiopia to control the names of its coffee. That way, Ethiopia can help determine an export price that makes sure farmers see a larger share of the profits – enabling them to feed their children, send them to school, and get better healthcare.
Truly, how quaint. Not to be outdone, however, the mainstream environmental movement – emboldened by Al Gore's recent invention (or was it discovery) of compost and carbon credits – continues to fight for more fancy rain jackets in which the spectacle of redigging of old trenches in the mud may be properly sound-tracked and filmed (the CEOs of The Sierra Club, etc. do not themselves dig much), as the riverbank they are desperately defending continues to erode away.*
In partnership with Oxfam, Co-op America is calling on Starbucks to sign this agreement with Ethiopia. According to Oxfam, control of the names could increase Ethiopia's coffee exports by more than 25 percent, or $88 million annually, which could help lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty. Sign on to Oxfam's Starbucks campaign to learn more about Starbucks, and visit its profile at our ResponsibleShopper.org.
Speaking of "responsible shoppers," I was recently involved in one of those debates that seem to crop up from time to time over consumer-driven activism. In short, I argued (from my usual elitist stance) what seems to me the obvious, that in the long term and for as long as the corporations remain in the driver's seat (either in their current form, or in predictable future larger form – taking for established fact that they are only tokenly in check today), such "choice" amounts to barely more than that between "varieties" of fast food. The consumer itself is already product, after all, and despite the very real positive gains such "lifestyle" activism may have been said to achieve over the last few decades (but did it really, or were there other macroeconomic changes one ought to consider?), well, I don't feel very hopeful about yuppies changing the world. In the absence of genuine anti-trust laws or better yet a thoroughgoing socialization of the ownership of the means of production, of healthcare and education (and the leisure ethic, while we're at it), how much longer can such efforts truly offer solace to the yuppie class (those for whom the slow pace of change is not exactly cause for concern, and for whom such gestures risk calcifying into a sort of vain snobbery of taste, not to mention false sense of complacency, the moment they begin)?
*That second link, in contrast to the first, is to the Habermas-Gore sort of thing. It is my general contention that such thinking remains less than sufficient in response to today's environmental, dare we say, ethical care or relational problems. But, these are complex issues, and a real debate (between Habermasian environmentalism and those who would demand something more...postmodern) deserves to be had. In anticipation of that day, then, may it please be civil, public, and at least in fleeting hopeful moments genuinely and not just tokenly engaging with Foucault, the dialogue.