Last week, the National Consumers League (NCL), a consumer advocacy organisation in the US, filed a lawsuit against Starbucks.
The lawsuit alleges that the global coffee company has been misleadingly promoting its tea and coffee as being 100% ethically sourced, despite sourcing from farms in Kenya, Brazil and Guatemala associated with human rights abuses.
The filing claims it provides widespread evidence that the company relies on farms and cooperatives involved in severe labour and human rights violations.
Submitted in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the lawsuit highlights Starbucks’ campaigns to position itself as a leader in ethical coffee and tea sourcing. Despite promotional claims of ethical sourcing, the case alleges that Starbucks’ marketing “misleads consumers and fails to convey the rampant sourcing from coffee and tea farms and cooperatives with a documented history of child labour, forced labour, sexual harassment and assault and other human rights abuses”.
Sally Greenberg, chief executive officer of NCL, said: “On every bag of coffee and box of K-cups sitting on grocery store shelves, Starbucks is telling consumers a lie. The facts are clear: there are significant human rights and labour abuses across Starbucks’ supply chain, and consumers have a right to know exactly what they’re paying for. NCL is committed to exposing and reining in these deceptive practices and holding Starbucks accountable for living up to its claims.”
The group said in its court filing: “Starbucks’ failure to adopt meaningful reforms to its coffee and tea sourcing practices in the face of these critiques and documented labour abuses on its source farms is wholly inconsistent with a reasonable consumer’s understanding of what it means to be ‘committed to 100% ethical’ sourcing”.
“Similarly, Starbucks’ failure to disclose to consumers the unreliability of these certification programmes and their limitations as a guarantee of ethical sourcing are misleading omissions material to the decision-making of a reasonable consumer.”
A spokesperson for Starbucks told FoodBev: “We are aware of the lawsuit, and plan to aggressively defend against the asserted claims that Starbucks has misrepresented its ethical sourcing commitments to customers”.
“We take allegations like these extremely seriously and are actively engaged with farms to ensure they adhere to our standards. Each supply chain is required to undergo reverification regularly and we remain committed to working with our business partners to meet the expectations detailed in our Global Human Rights Statement.”
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