City, News

Activist looks behind green apron

Kim Fellner said before she wrote her book ‘Wrestling with Starbucks,’ a Starbucks Coffee Company public representative was more than willing to answer her questions.

However, after the July 2008 publication of her book, which explores the corporation’s policies and worker treatment, Starbucks representatives were no longer willing to talk to Fellner, a long-time labor and community activist.

‘As the company got bigger, the nature of the people they hire are much more corporate and less quirky,’ Fellner said. ‘I’m sure no one will give me the chance to speak with someone for interviews like the first time, years back. They have not answered any of my questions after the book came out.’

Despite this, Fellner told 30 attendees at The Jamaica Plain Forum, a discussion hosted by First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist, that Starbucks is not the soulless corporation many perceive it to be. In discussion intended to examine relevant social issues concerning union workers and labor activists, Fellner said she wanted to reach out to the union and labor activists by investigating how the corporation works behind the frothy, green-aproned scenes.

Fellner discussed how the corporation might be ignoring the environment and its workers in a quest for profit. She said although Starbucks, a business, ultimately seeks profit, the corporation tries to benefit communities as well.

‘I found that Starbucks is a shape-shifter, a company with different personalities,’ Fellner said. ‘They want to be both profitable and principle.’

Starbucks works hard at recycling post-consumer waste and donating portions of proceeds to local charitable works in some areas, she said.

Before Fellner’s talk, Mike Gonzalez, a Costa Rican native, shared his personal story of coffee bean picking. Although Gonzalez did not work for Starbucks, he said he experienced first-hand the abuse and insufficient compensation that often goes along with big coffee corporations.’

‘My family and I used to pick coffee beans in Costa Rica,’ Gonzalez said. ‘If we were good, we got $3 a day, but if we were really good, we got $5 a day. Big companies make you grow the trees, fertilize it, clean the streams and then document it.’

Fellner said Starbucks’ primary concern is quality, and because of this, sometimes the corporation does not purchase coffee beans from companies it agreed to buy from if the beans do not meet certain standards.

Another aspect of Starbucks Fellner thinks is negative is that it is constantly searching for more real estate, something she considers as ‘predatory,’ she said.’ ‘

‘Starbucks is not a franchise, but there are locations are everywhere,’ Fellner said.’

Because there are so many locations, Fellner said the consumers are also at fault for bolstering this Starbucks phenomenon.’

‘Here we are fighting global tycoons, yet we’re avid consumers,’ Fellner said. ‘I think it’s going to be hard to get consumers to care enough, especially with their purchasing habits.’

Ann Sinclair, a Jamaica Plain resident, said she came to the talk with a negative view of Starbucks, like many of the other discussion attendees. She said she is a consumer who watches her purchasing habits unlike the ones Fellner referenced.’

‘I am not a Starbucks ‘attender’ because I already had these bad instincts,’ Sinclair said. ‘There are smaller, local coffee shops here, so it’s easier for us to do the right thing.’

More Articles

Comments are closed.