Dear jealous anti-capitalist group

You can rant and rave all you like about how Starbucks put smaller establishments out of business, but at the end of the day, no one on the high street can make coffee like they can. Their stores are inviting and unintimidating, and certainly attracts consumers to a town which may generate more revenue for other retailers.

I'm fed up with anti-capitalists who spew rubbish about this and that. I believe that it's the green-eyed monster coming out because Starbucks is a successful, innovative and instantly recognisable brand. This jealousy also extends to other successful chains such as McDonalds, Costa Coffee, etc.
Thanks for reading,

Miss S.I

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Dear content Capitalist,

You can rant and rave all you like about how Starbucks make nice coffee, but at the end of the day they homogenise culture, wipe out small businesses and shaft their employees and coffee growers for every penny they have. Their stores are bland and boring, and are sure to turn every town into an identikit of each other, which should eventually shut down all competition.

I’m fed up with Capitalists who spew ill-informed rubbish about this and that. I believe that it’s the blind consumer monster coming out because Starbucks is a nasty, greedy and unmoral brand who think nothing of bullying people to get their way. This irresponsibility of yours probably also extends to other thugs such as McDonalds, Nike, Pret-a-manger (owned by McDonalds), Exxon, GAP, etc… Who also hassle governments to reduce labour laws, increase the debt of developing countries, lobby the WTO into dismissing environmental protection, use slave-like sweatshop labour and generally abuse the rest of the world for the comfortable living of an ever smaller proportion of the population.

I find your type vulgar, greedy, sheltered and selfish . When will you learn that the rest of the people on the planet are not here to serve you, that your comfortable life is built upon a system that relies upon the poverty of others. That YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE and that you are acting like a spoilt little brat.
I’m sure the coffee does taste nice, but you leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Thanks for reading,

Mr R.P

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Mr P

You're absolutely right - I am ill-informed. However, I I confess that I take things at face value and that during a shopping trip, Starbucks seems like an ideal place to take a restful break.

Believe me, I am not interested in ruining the lives of others through using sweatshops or unfair trade policies but you must remember that what the consumer sees and what you know are two very separate issues.

I never knock successful businesses if the appear to be operating fairly. However, if you believe/know that Starbucks are simply abusing the vulnerability of others, then please tell me more.
many thanks,

Miss S.I

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Dear Miss I,

Thanks for writing back, I am sorry if I went off the handle a bit on my last letter. I’ll admit that on the face of it Starbucks and many other multinationals appear to be wholesome, eco-friendly caring companies and our anger seems to be completely illogical. However once you look past the advertising and PR that these companies push out, a very different picture can be seen.

On the face of it Starbucks are a successful , rapidly expanding business. Their stores are opening everywhere, and it seems like local businesses are just being out classed by another company which provides what people want. However things are not as innocent as they seem. Starbucks use an expansion strategy called clustering. Basically the idea is this, you open up a new store in the vicinity of a rival or local coffee shop, which has been a part of that community for years and has developed a coffee scene. This new store undercuts the rival, and makes no money, however being a large company like Starbucks you can support that store and run it at a loss on the back of other stores. This continues with more Starbucks moving into an area, and starting a price war, even undercutting each other, until the rival eventually goes bust. At which point Starbucks can afford to raise their prices as they have a local monopoly, they can even close some of the stores in the area in order to make the remaining ones more profitable. Then they move onto the next location and do the same, using the added income from the last community to bolster the new loss running stores.

Starbucks will not move into an area unless they can guarantee that they will shortly become the leading brand in that area. There have been many cases of Starbucks HQ phoning up small stores landlords and offering to pay well above the rates for a store if the land lord will kick out the rival.

Their expansion strategy is not the only reason that Starbucks are disliked however. Until recently Starbucks refused to buy any Fair-trade coffee, infact they made up their own version called ‘Commitment To Origins’. This is simply a PR stunt to avoid criticism for the fact they are screwing their coffee producers for every penny they have. Fair trade coffee has to be certified fair trade, with no certification it is meaningless. The "Commitments to Origins" scheme may look ethical and fair trade but it is not Fair Trade, it is Starbucks own version of fair trade which they monitor themselves, or appoint their own independent monitors for. The farmers still get a raw deal, it's just as unethical, but Starbucks get to pretend they are being responsible. It is rather like Esso / Exxon appointing their own board to advise on the environmental effects of their oil (Which infact they have done and surprisingly they found out that Global Warming doesn’t exist!). Starbucks now sell some Fair-trade coffee (Due in no small part to the protests that have been kicking up around them), however it is still only available in a bag and not to buy in store.

They don’t treat their own staff much nicer either, Starbucks actively discourage unions and workers rights, workers work part-time (up to 39 hrs per week, but never 40) flexible shifts, meaning that they don’t have the rights of full time employees, they can easily be replaced and don’t get sick pay. Workers have no leg to stand on when asking for things such as a fair wage.

Starbucks farming techniques are unsustainable and damaging to the environment, the crops wipe out bio-diversity and the countries that they buy their coffee from (Guatemala, Indonesia etc) don’t enforce any strong environmental regulations. So even if Starbucks release statements about their commitment to the ecology and dislike for chemicals, they are not carried out. This is not likely to improve with the WTO in its current state of slashing all hindrance to big business, after being lobbied by companies such as Starbucks.
Starbucks however are by no means the only offenders, GAP, Nike, McDonalds, Esso / Exxon etc are all companies that put profit before the well being of the planet or its inhabitants. Where are the governments that are supposed to monitor these companies you may ask? Unfortunately they are largely in the pockets of the companies. Exxon was one of the largest donators to George Bush’s election campaign, and as soon as he was in he did his best to slash all environmental laws, and pull out of any responsibility to global warming (The Kyoto treaty being a prime example).

The three institutions that are supposed to govern world trade are no better. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) comes under the harshest critique for its policies of fining any hindrance to trade. This extends to fining countries who put in environmental protection (It hinders the oil industry?) and those that try to ban GM products (It hinders GM companies?). These are some of the reasons that all of the protests happened at the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999.

The other two institutions are just as devious. Developing countries through the guidance of the IMF (international monetary fund) and World Bank (Both predominantly US institutions) are given loans on the condition that they accept certain changes to how they run their economies (the original thinking was that US economists with their wealth of knowledge would lead these countries out of poverty). However these conditions usually consist of allowing US companies in to set up shop and buy up local factories. Countries set up what are called EPZ's (Economic Processing Zones) which are large industrial centres for foreign companies. As an incentive to attract business The IMF suggest allowing companies relaxed or zero tax for the first couple of years, there are of course many other conditions bartered individually. The result of this is that US companies can set up factories in countries with little or no labour laws, construct their goods for barely any cost and not invest a cent in the country that is hosting them, at the end of the couple of years the company can then either move on to another equally desperate third world country and threaten a loss in jobs to the host, or wrangle another few years free rent. The Country slips deeper into debt and the IMF lends them more money with even more conditions attached.

I am no expert on all of this, and for more information and hard facts I would look at books such as ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein, ‘The Silent Takeover’ by Noreena Hertz or perhaps some of these links:

http://www.nologo.org/
http://www.globalexchange.org/
http://www.globalexchange.org/economy/coffee/starbucks.html
http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/
http://www.wetlands-preserve.org/humanrights.htm#gap
http://www.BehindTheLabel.org/
http://www.cleanclothes.org/

This amongst many other things is what the Anti-Capitalist movement is arguing about. Every time we shop in Nike, buy a Starbucks or McDonalds we are supporting the corporate take over of our planet, the blanding of individual cultures and the oppression of the third world. Admittedly Starbucks are not global villain number one, however they are the market leaders in their field and if they don’t change their ways why should their competition?

Thanks for reading and I’m sorry if I have a tendency to rant.

RP