Starbucks takes step towards recognizing Ethiopian rights to coffee names. Campaigners urge company to follow through.

By Oxfam

BOSTON — International agency Oxfam responded to a joint statement from coffee company Starbucks and the Government of Ethiopia in which Starbucks pledged not to oppose Ethiopian efforts to trademark its coffee names, Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Harar. While it is a good first step, Oxfam said Starbucks needed to go further and guarantee concrete support for the Ethiopian project, designed to benefit poor producers.

"It's good to see Starbucks finally coming to the table, which they initially refused to do," said Seth Petchers, coffee lead for Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair campaign. "Starbucks now says it won't block the initiative, but what it hasn't said is how it will actively support Ethiopia's stated efforts to obtain trademarks for its coffees which will bring added benefits to poor farmers."

After initially dismissing Ethiopia's plan to trademark its specialty coffees, Starbucks, which came under international pressure from campaigners, has now said it is ready to recognize Ethiopia's right to pursue this path.

Ethiopian officials have said Ethiopia will continue to pursue the trademarking and licensing initiative and hopes to enter in to partnership with Starbucks and other companies through negotiated licensing agreements. These would recognize Ethiopia's ownership of the coffee names and allow them to get a fairer share of the profits for their producers. Ethiopia has obtained a trademark in the US for its Yirgacheffe coffee.

Oxfam and other partners have supported the trademarking initiative as a way to pass down more of the value of coffee sales to poor producers who typically receive a tiny percentage of final sale price, and struggle to make a living.

On February 15 Starbucks announced initiatives to benefit coffee farmers in Ethiopia including funding for a quality improvement project and increased coffee purchases in East Africa. While the additional purchases and support are beneficial, these initiatives fail to address the fundamental rights issue at hand. What the Ethiopians have asked coffee roasters to do is recognize Ethiopia's right to control and share in the value of the country's specialty coffee names through trademarks.

"As a market leader, Starbucks should take concrete steps that the Ethiopian government has called for, including reaching an agreement that recognizes Ethiopia's legal ownership of its coffee names," continued Petchers.

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