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Canadian Activists Target Starbucks on Rights of Ethiopian Farmers

Canadian Activists Target Starbucks on Rights of Ethiopian Farmers

May 10, 2010

Activists across Canada will hold demonstrations tomorrow (Saturday) outside Starbucks to protest the company’s refusal to recognize the rights of Ethiopian coffee farmers to the names of their coffees. The actions form part of a global day of solidarity with Ethiopian farmers.

More than 85,000 people in 70 countries have now joined Oxfam in faxing Starbucks CEO Jim Donald, asking the company to support Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names. Today’s international action is further proof of the strength of support worldwide for this effort to help millions of farmers who produce world-class coffee, but who continue to live in poverty.

Actions will take place at noon Saturday outside Starbucks stores in Halifax, St. John’s, Ottawa, and Edmonton. In addition, activists throughout the world will be taking individual actions and visiting their local Starbucks to talk to baristas about the Ethiopian trademark issue.

“The strength of feeling about this issue is obvious from the number of Starbucks customers who have spoken out already, said Seth Petchers, Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. ‘Knowing that farmers only receive around 3¢ from a $4 cup of coffee leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

“Starbucks loudly proclaims its commitment to the welfare of the farmers who provide it with world-class coffee, said Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada. ‘We’ll know that sentiment is genuine when they acknowledge Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names.”

On October 26, Oxfam launched a campaign to encourage Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement offered by Ethiopia. The agreement would acknowledge Ethiopia’s ownership over its specialty coffee names, Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Ownership of the names would result in greater control over how the beans are marketed, and would ultimately result in a great share of the profits going to the 15 million poor people in Ethiopia who are dependent on that crop.

For more than a year, Ethiopia sought a dialogue with Starbucks about trademark rights for Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe coffees. Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia’s requests to resolve the issue, and has refused to sign a royalty-free licensing agreement that would recognize Ethiopia’s right to control how its own coffee names are used.

Legal and intellectual property experts believe the trademark and licensing project is a viable solution to the poverty that plagues Ethiopian farmers. Trademark protection for Ethiopia’s coffees has already been recognized in Canada, as well as several European countries and Japan.

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