Starbucks Sued Over Alleged Human Rights Abuses

Starbucks is in a bit of hot coffee yet again, and this time it is quite a bit more serious than the lawsuit prompting Starbucks to go to court over missing fruit in Refreshers. The National Consumer League, a consumer rights watchdog organization, has filed a lawsuit against the coffee chain in regard to ethics and false advertising. Starbucks, which netted around $3.6 billion in profits in 2023, is being accused of sourcing coffee beans and tea leaves from farms and plantations with documented human rights abuses. 

According to the lawsuit, Starbucks engaged in business with these Guatemalan, Kenyan, and Brazilian farms and cooperatives with full knowledge of the alleged "use of child labor and forced labor as well as rampant and egregious sexual harassment and assault," reports Reuters. The majority of Starbucks coffee is sourced from countries that fall within the Coffee Belt — a geographical area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which includes the three countries mentioned in the lawsuit.

From the perspective of the National Consumer League, Starbucks is intentionally misleading its customers by purporting to be a socially responsible company with fully ethical product sourcing while simultaneously violating its own standards. The National Consumer League also appears to suggest that this is a pattern of behavior for the company. The lawsuit cites past instances where Starbucks continued to purchase from farms and gave them its stamp of ethical approval even after glaring human rights abuses were uncovered and documented.

What does Starbucks have to say about all this?

For its part, Starbucks denies the allegations, and a spokesperson from the company sent Tasting Table this statement: "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 re-verification regularly and we remain committed to working with our business partners to meet the expectations detailed in our Global Human Rights Statement."

The referenced statement does cite guidance from various reputable sources, like the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Labor Organization. The company also says that it works with third-party organizations for certifications, audits, and to help remediate issues when necessary. However, the main body that enforces the company-wide standards around ethics and human rights within the supply chain of production is the Audit and Compliance Committee, which is made up of members of Starbucks' board of directors.

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