Starbucks Coffee Issues

Coffee is an agricultural commodity and is considered an important dietary staple across the entire world that it has actually created a huge economy of its own. Starbucks is a big player in this economic game. Coffee plants grow in two different types, Arabica and Robusta. The means of production to produce Starbucks coffee is through the raw materials of the coffee beans they receive from farmers located outside the United States, and manufacturing plants within the United States. Starbucks sources their Arabica coffee beans from developing countries in Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that is then transported to the manufacturing factories by ships.

Starbucks is 100% committed to providing ethically sourced coffee products. Their method for producing ethically sourced coffee is through Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices, and Fairtrade. This group has a set standard of guidelines for social, economic, and quality developed exclusively by Starbucks as well as Conservation International. Coffee and Farmer Equity and Conservation International work closely with farmers in the 20 countries they obtain their coffee from which spans across four continents to ensure their guidelines are being practiced in its entirety. Starbucks is also committed to securing fair wages and providing access to healthcare and education to help improve the lives of the farmers growing the coffee beans as well as their families. In addition to the first type of producing this commodity, Starbucks also controls four U.S. roasting plants for manufacturing their coffee beans, two bakeries that produce their the food they offer in their stores, and two tea processing plants for their Tazo tea subsidiary.

With any commodity, an embodied human labor went into producing the coffee Starbucks uses to sell their products. We, as consumers also tend to fetishize these products because we don’t think about how or where the coffee was produced in terms of working conditions of the farmers and their employees.  Prior to 2009, Starbucks operated three roasting plants and was on a 7-day work schedule. By opening a fifth, they were able to move to a 5-day work week schedule, thus improving the division of labor by giving workers more time with their families. However, one of the problems associated with the division of labor in Marx’s view is alienation the workers feel from the repetitive job tasks required for their position.  Each Starbucks employee has a sense of division of labor in that they are assigned to perform specific tasks; from working on the farms to produce the raw materials of the red coffee beans, to the manufacturing/roasting plants where employees roast the beans, to the employees packaging the product and loading them onto pallets to prepare for shipping, and finally to the baristas at the Starbucks locations, taking orders and making the drinks. Each employee is assigned to special tasks that they perform every day, and while they may feel a sense of importance being a part of the “Starbucks family”, they can thus feel alienated from the products they are helping produce. This is because they are constantly performing the same tasks every day that they work, the worker puts his life into a producing a product he doesn’t own.

Starbucks sells a culture of coffee as a lifestyle, which aligns with Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of social status and distinction. Bourdieu believes that members of high social classes have the means to secure greater economic, social, and cultural capital than the lower classes. Because of this, those in the higher classes have a more developed taste preferences and willingness to try things that are more unique. Therefore, those who have a desire to appear to be in the upper class or already are a member of the upper class are influenced by luxury coffee like Starbucks. While those who are in the lower class, cannot afford luxury coffee like Starbucks, or they may not like the strength and flavor of their coffee because they are more accustomed to low-end coffee brands that they can afford, or they simply don’t like coffee because they didn’t grow up drinking it. Starbucks is a special type of coffee house that is completely different than any other ‘chain-style’ coffee house like, Dunkin Donuts, Dutch Brothers, and even locally owned coffee houses like Bibo’s and Hub.

Its luxury style coffeehouses are marketed towards being appealing to the middle and upper classes. Coming from someone that has Starbucks 365 days out of the year, I have tried several times, other coffee houses and I can honestly say nothing compares to Starbucks. It’s not just the idea that Starbucks is a ‘luxury’ coffee, but the flavor and caffeine content is what sets them apart from all of the other coffeehouses in town. I get a lot of teasing from friends and colleagues over my Starbucks consumption problem. I can understand why some wouldn’t want to spend $2,190/year by having Starbucks every single day like I do. It’s expensive and Starbucks competitors offer their own versions of Frappuccino’s and latte’s at more affordable prices, like Dunkin Donuts for their large is $4, compared to the $6 I spend at Starbucks. However, saving $2 for a drink that doesn’t taste good isn’t worth it to me. But I can see where people think it’s worth saving an extra buck. There are also those who would rather support our local coffee shops, even though the prices are comparable to that of Starbucks, the idea of supporting local instead of a huge corporation can be more appealing. It’s more than just the flavor that sets Starbucks above the others, it’s the welcoming atmosphere with the perfect setting for studying, meeting up with friends, or just having a place to relax away from home.

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