Starbucks has announced that they will be cutting back on purchases of fair trade coffee and has ended the relationship with FairTrade in the U.K., the Middle East and Africa.

The global coffee chain will instead promote its own sustainability initiatives, ending a relationship that spanned 12 years and was one of FairTrade’s flagship customers.

As outlined in a recent meeting between Starbucks and Fairtrade, we will reduce the amount of Fairtrade coffee we purchase in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Starbucks spokesperson

Fairtrade was informed of the decision just before Christmas 2021, Which must have been an unwelcome end to the year for the organisation.

We’re not sure how much of a surprise the news would have been, considering the Starbucks scheme has been around for a couple of years however. The writing as they say, was on the wall back then.

In fact, the webpage announcing the C.A.F.E. programme is dated February 2020. We can see that apart from the colour of the header at the top of the page, the website hasn’t changed at all in that time. (As a side note, the acronym, which is as good as you can hope for at a coffee company, happens to be the same as an old standard for measuring car fuel efficiency – the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard (C.A.F.E.) , which I happened to read about in Bill Gate’s excellent book on climate change, around the same time.)

Developed in collaboration with Conservation International, C.A.F.E. Practices is a verification program that measures farms against economic, social and environmental criteria, all designed to promote transparent, profitable and sustainable coffee-growing practices, while also protecting the well-being of coffee farmers and workers, their families and their communities

Spokesperson for Starbucks

We noted some observers voiced concerns over the maintenance of standards at the company, while others have pointed out that Fairtrade is not without problems of its own.

Fairtrade, of course, has a much bigger scope than coffee to consider, so perhaps Starbucks, with a requirement to monitor only coffee production, could have an advantage of focus.

They’ve put all their documents online in a sign of transparency. This includes the policy documents for the auditing verification companies. It’s worth reading; they’re here: https://www.scsglobalservices.com/services/starbucks-cafe-practices

I thought the documents looked to be considered, with an eye to practical implementation. For example, they expect to shadow-audit the company during their initial verification project, and they can dismiss the company if they don’t meet a required standard.

In one of the policy documents, it states.

S.C.S. may restrict verification organisations’ approval status at will, based on any of the above reasons, or based on suspicions of impropriety or other occurrences or claims that could negatively impact the integrity and/or proper functioning of the program.

Starbucks C.A.F.E. Policy Document

The motivation for the move has not, to my knowledge, been disclosed. I’d be interested to find out if the decision was driven by cost or if bringing the process in-house was perceived as more controllable or lower risk.


  • Nick Baskett


    Nick Baskett is the editor in Chief at Bartalks. He holds a diploma from the Financial Times as a Non Executive Director and works as a consultant across multiple industries. Nick has owned multiple businesses, including an award-winning restaurant and coffee shop in North Macedonia.

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