Pictured: a Starbucks in Seoul, Korea

Or whipping girl.

It is a good thing Starbucks does not sell bananas, because they would be bruised from all the punches CSR (corporate social responsibility) advocates throw at the world’s leading coffee company.  Many attacks foisted on Starbucks is from the firm’s success, schadenfreude at the company’s recent struggles, and frustration from its rebound.  Some of the criticism stems from a fundamental misunderstanding that folks have about the coffee business:  prior to the Starbucks’ rapid emergence in the early 1990s, finding a good cup of coffee was hard to find.  Now, prior to the conventional wisdom, Starbucks has sparked a rise in independent coffee houses--not sabotaged them.  Around the world, people are drinking better coffee as imitators, always a sign of the sincerest form of flattery, copy Starbucks’ business model.  Nevertheless, ignorance about Starbucks’ success festers:  some independent coffee store owners will not hire baristas if they had worked at Starbucks.

Personally, I am a fan of the company, not of the coffee itself.  To me the taste borders tasting burned, but that is my opinion, and clearly I am in the minority.  Now as for what really matters:  sure, the company could and should do better.  Those accumulating paper cups are a waste issue, and while you can poach those nutrient-rich coffee grounds from a local Starbucks store for your garden, it would be great if the company could roll out a more aggressive program on that front.

But let us remember what Starbucks does right:

  • Boosting wealth for farmers abroad, often by the purchase of fair trade coffee;
  • Working on water issues so that coffee farmers can continue to thrive;
  • Improving store designs so that they have a reduced environmental impact;
  • In the USA, Starbucks pays more for health insurance than coffee; many single mother stay at its locations to serve up lattes so their children can stay insured;
  • Millions of Americans affected by this “man-cession” have an office where they can work, write, and meet thanks to the wireless that not only is free, but almost always works.
  • Unlike their parents, teens and young adults have a safe place to meet--anyone who grew up in the 1970s or 1980s would agree with me when I saw I wish my friends and I had a place like Starbucks to “hang out.”
  • Millions of coffee addicts can feel a level of sophistication when ordering a “skinny-soy-non-fat-extra-foam-sugar-free-vanilla-half-and-half” latte.  All right, not very redeeming, but you have to admit it is not only amusing to hear, but even more impressive that the baristas get the order right!
Plenty of other examples are on Starbucks’ CSR site; it is up to you to decide what you believe and what you feel could use more work.

Nevertheless, the attacks on Starbucks, many unfair, will continue.  The worst example is one article that suggests Starbucks is the most unethical coffee chain the United Kingdom:  based on events that occurred outside the UK, as stated in a marginal publication that revealed little about its methodology.

When you pay a few bucks for coffee at an “indie” coffee shop and then have to pour your own cup out of a thermos; when you sit in an “indie” shop where the workers do not have health insurance; and if you asked to leave after a couple hours on the wireless network (understandably, in fairness), remember what Starbucks does right:  offering millions of students a way to pay for school, parents to provide health insurance for their kids, and a safe place to meet.  We should hold Starbucks’ feet to the fire, but the CSR mafia (many of whom are masters at trolling for talent and services without paying for them, by the way) needs to be honest and fair when critiquing a company that has done far more good than bad.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.