Sweat Free Houston

Working to make the City of Houston sweatshop free.

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The ethical traveler

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Sweat Free Houston founders are all about living an ethical life. While our campaign is to get the City of Houston to pass a “sweat free” purchasing ordinance that addresses apparel purchasing by the city, we also know that sweatshops exist in the fields all around the world. In fact the agricultural labors in the USA live horrific lives, see the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for just one example of how tomato pickers on Florida are subjected to slavery in the fields.

Another huge population of exploited workers are coffee farmers. While in the USA, we only drink Fair Trade certified organic coffee. Hey we need energy to change the world! Well the problem with having a third party independent certifier saying your coffee beans are ethical is that big corporations use the fair trade certification to green wash their entire corporation. (definition of green washing: The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive.).

Starbucks is likely the most skilled green washing multi-national corporation in the world. They do as little as possible when it comes to treating coffee farmers justly but they blow the tiny bit of their responsible behavior all over the place and pretend they care about their suppliers when in actuality they are nothing better than slave drivers. One of the founders of Sweat Free Houston just went to Korea on business and here’s an encounter we thought you’d enjoy. The photo shows a Starbucks in Daechi neighborhood in Seoul.

First it’s important to know that Starbucks has a long history of using Fair Trade to green wash their business. For example, see this press release from the Organic Consumers Association.

Only about 6% of the coffee Starbucks sells is fair trade certified but they very seldom have any brewing. Green LA girl, an awesome blogger, gives a nice history of this very issue. Starbucks likes to brag about being “The largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified coffee in the world,” but the simple fact is that more than 90% of their coffee is sweatshop coffee where the worker gets screwed by Starbucks on the price they receive for their product.

After I had been in Seoul for about 12 hours I figured it was time to stir things up a little. Before traveling to Korea, I had read how Starbucks were spreading like the disease they are all across the country, knocking mom and pop coffee shops out of business left and right. Just 4 minutes after  I walked out of my brother-in-laws apartment in Daechi Dong, the most exclusive neighborhood in Seoul, I saw a young lady with a Starbucks cup in hand. Sure enough, 10 yards ahead was the evil empire.

So I rolled in and went to the literature display and found this:

It was a nice little brochure that was entitled Starbucks CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Starbucks being socially responsible is like saying that the KKK was kind to minorities. The example of their literature above brags about how “responsible” they are. Now knowing that they claim to sell fair trade coffee in their brochures prominently displayed in their cookie cutter store, I stepped up to the counter and asked for some. Nope, they weren’t brewing any. The barrista pointed to the rack of bagged coffee where you could not see any fair trade certified coffee bags. I took a few more photos and the manager approached me and in perfect English, told me to stop taking pictures.  I asked about Fair  Trade coffee and she pointed out one bag way on the bottom of the display. I told her that I’d like to drink some now. She said “It’s out of season.” I said, “Then why are you selling it?” After that exchange I figured that the Starbucks corporate line in Korea is the same as in the USA and made my exit.

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