·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Consumer Advocacy Group Sues Starbucks Over “100% Ethically Sourced” Coffee Claims

— January 11, 2024

The lawsuit suggests that Starbucks has deceived consumers by stating that its coffee is ethically sourced, when numerous reports have shown recurring abuses at many of its suppliers’ overseas facilities.

A consumer advocacy organization has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, accusing the company of misrepresenting claims about its ethically-sourced coffee.

According to The Associate Press, the National Consumers League cited media reports of violence and abuse on farms that supply coffee and tea to Starbucks. In its complaint, the group said that documented cases of unethical practices cast serious doubt on Starbucks packaging, which says that the company is “committed to 100% ethical coffee sourcing.”

“On every bag of coffee and box of K-cups that Starbucks sells, Starbucks is heralding its commitment to 100% ethical sourcing,” said Sally Greenberg, C.E.O. of the National Consumers League. “But it’s pretty clear that there are significant human rights and labor abuses across Starbucks’ supply chain.”

The lawsuit, notes The Associated Press, includes several pointed examples of overtly unethical incidents. In the claim, attorneys for the National Consumers League mention a 2022 case in which police rescued 17 workers—of whom three were children—from a coffee farm in Brazil, where they were allegedly forced to labor outdoors and without protective equipment.

Starbucks has since suggested that the lawsuit is baseless.

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“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,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement.

“We take allegations like these extremely seriously and are actively engaged with farms to ensure they adhere to our standards,” Starbucks said in another, earlier statement. “Each supply chain is required to undergo reverification regularly and we remain committed to working with our business partners to meet the expectations detailed in our Global Human Rights Statement.”

Nonetheless, some experts have said that companies like Starbucks adhere to obviously flawed procedures and protocol in determining whether suppliers provide human working conditions.

“There is this huge pile of evidence that shows that the mechanisms [that certifiers are] relying on to address problems like forced labor, child labor, gender-based violence, are extremely flawed and not working very well,” said Genevieve LeBaron, director of the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“We have incident after incident that’s uncovered in these supply chains,” LeBaron told NBC News. “And still, companies go around and make these kinds of claims that they have 100% sustainable or ethical sourcing.”

LeBaron, adds NBC News, has conducted research indicating that the prevalence of labor abuses on cocoa and tea plantations is “basically identical” between certified and uncertified farms.

With respect to its lawsuit, the National Consumers League has said that it is seeking a court order to prevent Starbucks from continuing to engage in allegedly deceptive advertising; it has also asked that the company be made to run a corrective advertising campaign.

“Starbucks must reform its sourcing practices to ensure that workers on the farms and cooperatives that supply its coffee and tea products are treated fairly and in accordance with the law,” Greenberg said.


Starbucks sued by consumer group that calls its claim of ethical sourcing false and misleading

Starbucks sued for alleged deceptive marketing of its ‘100% ethically’ sourced coffee

Starbucks sued for allegedly using coffee from farms with rights abuses while touting its ‘ethical’ sourcing

Join the conversation!