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Fight the Starbucks Coffee Purchase Guilt

Guest post by Chris Horst - Visiting the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle last week was like a party for my senses. Delectable sights, sounds and smells emanated throughout the re-purposed historic train station Starbucks calls home. As part of my MBA program, my cohort had the privilege of visiting with several Starbucks executives–and tasting lots of delicious coffee, of course. Sadly, however, despite my hopes, there were no vanilla latte water fountains. The visit has got me thinking.

Have you ever been a part of a church service or conversation when someone said something like, “You selfishly spend $20/month on coffee purchases — imagine what good that money could do if you gave it to a non-profit!” I’ve heard it many times and am sure I have even said it more than once. There is some truth to that comment, and I am not writing this post to justify excessive consumerism, but I am increasingly convinced that is a misleading admonition.

Your purchases, be it for your favorite coffee, the car you drive or the computer you are using right now, are doing good. Did you know that Starbucks provides wages and health insurance to over 115,000 individuals people and are supporting over 75,000 rural coffee farmers throughout Latin America and Africa? Learning about the Starbucks Farmer Support program (see video below) was like watching a HOPE International marketing video — incredible how much of an impact the gourmet coffee craze is making on the lives of poor rural farmers.

Many times we assume that all our spending is selfish and detrimental to the world…as if only money given to charities is “money well spent.” That’s just not true. Look at India, Chile, Brazil, Hong Kong and even Rwanda. These countries are seeing massive numbers of people’s livelihoods improved and are seeing the flourishing of many of their communities. Many factors have contributed to these countries’ collective emergence, but the engine of entrepreneurship is leading the charge. We often judge the worth of businesses by how much they give charitably to charities. In my view, the primary good they contribute to our society is their provision of valuable products, services and meaningful employment to the world–from the smallest “mom and pop” shops to the world’s largest companies. Their donations are great too, but it’s their inherent value which is doing the most good.

Next time you buy your white chocolate mocha, use your Blackberry, or read your Bible, think about the people whose livelihoods, perhaps across the globe, you are supporting. Sip that latte with your chin-up. Your habit is putting food on the table for over 75,000 rural farmers in the developing world.

Dig into the ethical policies of your favorite companies, as you are voting with each of your purchases and charitable donations. Are you voting for candidates believe in?

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posted by Justin Forman | 4.21.2010 - 8:50 PM


Very well said. I think most of us can relate to being faced with the question, could we trade in some luxuries and personal comfort for something greater?

After I first read the article, I think its no less important we look at what we're pursuing. But I think its also important to recognize that in the end these businesses can impact lives by providing jobs and creating natural places for community.

As its pointed out, all things are needed but our good intentions to "course correct" should focus on our intention and not cause us to swing the pendulum to become anti-business. Entrepreneurship is the engine that is needed to lead the way in so many countries. Without the self sustainability of business, any aid situation (albeit in Haiti, Africa or wherever) will be in trouble.

I think its all about our intentions and what we're pursuing. Great thoughts, thanks for letting us share with the community.
commented by Blogger Justin Forman, 9:13 PM  

Great post. I have been irritated in the past when people put down Starbucks. My wife used to work their at corp and I know that there is a lot of good that they do.
commented by Blogger Paul Dinkins, 3:36 PM  

Awesome post...my wife and I are huge Starbucks coffee drinkers and have been for a long time. I used to get criticism from coworkers for drinking so much Starbucks but after I shared with them the social responsibility practices and policies of Starbucks they were quite shocked.

See, things on the outside are always different until you begin peeling back layer after layer and suddenly what seemed to be a completely overpriced coffee shop now suddenly is a direct personal link to empowering people all over the world.
commented by Anonymous Adam Hadnott, 4:43 PM  

Well intentioned article but unfortunately your logic can be used to justify almost anything. For example, you could substitute the purchase of pornography for a coffee and use the same argument.
I also believe that your whole premise is misguided. I have never heard of anyone who suggests that purchasing all goods and services is bad. In our culture the overwhelming problem regarding consumption is not that people feel guilty about their purchases but how the majority of Christians feel that it is no problem that they give about 2% of their income to advancing the kingdom and feel very comfortable with unbridled luxury purchases.
commented by Anonymous mike allison, 11:56 AM  

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