Coffee News Club: Week of September 6th


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An insightful look at Starbucks’ unionization push, big buyers are buying more sustainably, and shoes made from recycled Nespresso coffee.

Let’s look at this week’s news—coming to you Tuesday in honor of Labor Day.

‘Report: 55% of Coffee Purchased by Eight of World’s Largest Buyers Meets Sustainability Baseline’ – via Daily Coffee News

In 2021, more than half (55%) of the coffee bought by the eight largest roasting and retail companies met some form of sustainability benchmark, says a new report from the non-profit Global Coffee Platform (GCP).

The report defines sustainable purchasing practices as coffees that meet various third-party certification standards such as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance and specific in-house programs like Nestlé’s Nespresso AAA or ofi’s AtSource.

It’s up for debate how stringent or valuable such voluntary sustainability certifications are, with one study in 2018 finding their impact “mixed and usually finds modest effects at best.”

The total volume of green coffee purchases reported by the eight companies for 2021 was 2.26 metric tons, or 37.6 million 60-kilo bags. While GCP notes that the 55% figure represents a 29% increase over the last report in 2020, that also means that 45% of the coffee, or 16.92 million bags, did not meet any sustainability standards.

The eight companies referred to in the report were JDE Peet’s, Melitta Group, Keurig Dr Pepper, Nestlé, Strauss Coffee, SUPRACAFÉ, Tesco, and Westrock Coffee.

Read the full story here.

‘The Bitter Fight For Unions at Starbucks, One Year Later’ – via Bloomberg

As we mark the one year anniversary of the first petition filed in Buffalo, New York, an interesting article in Bloomberg examines the data behind Starbucks’ unionization drive.

Through July 2022, workers at 326 Starbucks locations across the United States have filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). And 80% of the time, workers have voted in favor of unionizing when those elections have come to pass..

However, momentum in new filings seems to be slowing, with petitions for elections falling 80% from March to July. Bloomberg attributes this to the union’s focus shifting to the courts, with 283 unfair labor practice filings containing over 600 allegations of labor law violations submitted over the past year. That quantity of complaints is the most of any private employer in the US.

“This is the most retaliatory campaign I have seen in 40 plus years—by far,” said Richard Bensinger, a senior advisor for Starbucks Workers United. Starbucks continues to deny the allegations of union busting. 

The article also indicates that elections are tightening: in April, 80% of employees voted for unionization, while in July it was 63%. Losses are becoming more common, but Bensinger says the organizing will continue: “We are fighting for the right of all Starbucks workers to organize without fear, intimidation, and threats.”

Read the full story here.

More News

‘Ethiopia Sidama Coffee Breaks Cup of Excellence Record at $400.50/lb’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘IKEA recall: 7,500 IKEA coffee makers might burst while brewing’ – via BGR
‘First Regenerative Organic Certified Coffee Hits US Market’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘Starbucks Names New CEO’ – via CNN
‘Ousted Luckin Coffee Chairman to Launch Competing Coffee Chain’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘Albanian Coffee Culture Latest Casualty of Inflation’ – via Euractiv

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • The city of New York is suing Starbucks, alleging that the company fired a barista for union activity. It is the first time the city has taken legal action under its new “just cause” labor law, which protects workers against unfair firings. The complaint asks the judge to reinstate barista Austin Locke and issue him back pay after he was fired in July. “They knew I was the main person behind the union, and five days after we win the election, they decide to do this,” he told New York Daily News.
  • Workers have been on strike outside a Starbucks in Boston for 45 days (as of August 31), keeping the store closed while protesting what they call unfair and retaliatory behavior from management. It is the longest strike in the company’s history, and the workers aren’t going anywhere: “They should be bargaining with us soon,” barista Topaz Leo said. “If not, we will just have to keep going until they do.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows 71% of Americans support labor unions, the highest level of support since 1965. News reports attribute this to the high profile nature of union victories at Starbucks and Amazon.
  • A small but fun thing: Since Starbucks Workers United debuted on TikTok, its following has grown to 260,000. Meanwhile, the account Starbucks set up to try to counter the union’s messaging has just 4,000 followers. Does this mean anything? Who knows. Is it funny? Yes it is.

The Week in Corporate Coffeewashing

Nespresso is seemingly all about selling consumers back interesting products made from recycled coffee capsules, but perhaps you’re feeling their vibe: you’ve got your Nespresso recycled pen, you’re taking your recycled Nespresso bicycle out for a ride, holding your recycled Swiss army knife and, er, recycled vegetable peeler. But there’s still something missing.

Sneakers! That’s right, Nespresso is recycling (a tiny fraction of) its coffee grounds into sneakers in collaboration with zero-waste fashion startup Zèta. Re:Ground is a limited-edition line of sneakers, with “each pair of sneakers in the capsule collection contain[ing] Nespresso’s recycled coffee grounds, equivalent to 12 espressos.”

Zèta is apparently committed to only working with European suppliers to minimize its carbon footprint. It will therefore come as a shock to the company to learn where coffee is grown.

But at least the two companies “share the same environmental and social responsibility commitments,” as Zèta founder Laure Babin says. “Nespresso has a deep and longstanding commitment to sustainability, and circularity is a key part of this.” Nespresso’s Head of Accessories also says sustainability is “ingrained in the company’s DNA.”

Here’s the part where we link to stories about child labor found on Nespresso supplier farms, wage theft reported on other supplier farms, and how the company’s admitted recycling rate of 30% means 12,600 tons of aluminum from coffee pods ends up in landfill annually.

Is Coffee Good For You?

No news on coffee this week, but according to new research, tea drinkers can look forward to a lower risk of death.

Another study using the biomedical database, UK Biobank, found that those who consumed two or more cups of tea each day had between 9% and 13% lower risk of mortality, regardless of temperature or whether milk and sugar were added.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from half a million participants. It didn’t technically establish that the lower mortality was due to the tea because other health factors couldn’t be excluded.

Nevertheless, said Fernando Rodriguez Artalejo, professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, the study represents “a substantial advance in the field.” 

Beyond the Headlines

‘Edinburgh Coffee: The Sprudge Guide’ by James Gallagher
‘Is Offering PTO For Coffee Workers Important?’ by Valorie Clark
Critical Pedagogy and Coffee: Bartholomew Jones on Education, Music, and his Documentary ‘Cxffeeblack to Africa’’ by Fionn Pooler
Starbucks Fired Workers for Unionizing, But Workers Are Fighting Back’ by Nabretta Hardin and Victoria Tambellini

Coffee News Club is written by Fionn Pooler and the Fresh Cup editorial team.

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Fionn Pooler

Fionn Pooler is a coffee roaster and freelance writer currently based in the Scottish Highlands who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for over a decade. Since 2016 he has written the Pourover, a newsletter and blog that uses interviews and critical analysis to explore coffee’s place in the wider, changing world (and also yell at corporations).

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