Washington, D.C., – Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee brand, is facing a lawsuit filed by a consumer advocacy group for alleged false advertising. The group claims that Starbucks sources its coffee and tea from farms with human rights and labor abuses, despite promoting its commitment to ethical sourcing. The National Consumers League, the legal advocacy group bringing the case on behalf of American consumers, argues that Starbucks is misleading the public by marketing its products as “100% ethical” when it knowingly purchases from suppliers with documented violations.
The lawsuit references reports of human rights and labor abuses on specific farms in Guatemala, Kenya, and Brazil. It alleges that Starbucks continues to source from these suppliers despite the documented violations. The CEO of the National Consumers League, Sally Greenberg, asserts that while Starbucks boasts about its ethical sourcing commitment, there is significant evidence of human rights and labor abuses across the company’s supply chain.
Starbucks has yet to comment on the sourcing relationships mentioned in the lawsuit. However, the company previously stated that it takes allegations of labor violations seriously and is actively engaged with farms to ensure they adhere to its standards. It is committed to working with business partners to meet the expectations outlined in its Global Human Rights Statement.
In Brazil, labor officials have taken action against multiple Starbucks suppliers due to abusive and unsafe labor practices. These practices include deducting the cost of harvesting equipment from workers’ wages, failing to provide clean drinking water, personal protective equipment, and bathrooms, and employing underage workers. The lawsuit also mentions incidents of “modern slavery” at a coffee farm managed by a supplier certified by Starbucks.
The case filed against Starbucks is intended to prevent the company from making claims about ethical sourcing unless it improves its labor practices within the supply chain, according to Greenberg.
While Starbucks utilizes third-party certification programs to ensure the integrity of its supply chains for tea and cocoa, there have been ongoing concerns about the effectiveness of such programs. Experts argue that the mechanisms relied upon to address forced labor, child labor, and gender-based violence in supply chains are flawed. Genevieve LeBaron, director of the School of Public Policy at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, highlights the prevalence of incidents in certified and uncertified farms and urges companies like Starbucks to back up their ethical commitments with action.
Starbucks operates 10 “farmer support centers” in coffee-producing regions worldwide, but it does not publicly release lists of certified suppliers, making it difficult to track labor abuse instances. The issue of an ethical supply chain is further complicated by the low cost of sourcing goods in agriculture.
The Starbucks lawsuit brings to light the challenge faced by companies in ensuring ethical sourcing practices. As the case unfolds, it remains to be seen how Starbucks will address the allegations and improve labor conditions within its supply chain.