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Starbucks looks to leverage the ethical angle

August 5, 2005

Starbucks is a brand that looks to have learned from its ethical mistakes. It’s been a target for the activist community for a variety of reasons. In the Seattle riots, photographs of its smashed stores made their way onto the front pages of newspapers around the world.

The company seems to be taking its responsibility seriously. It has moved aggressively into Fair-Trade coffee and has just announced the launch of Ethos water.

Ethos is one of those new fangled ethical brands that give back a portion of sales to a worthy cause. In Ethos’s case, it’s to help improve and provide water in the developing world where a lack of clean water is one of the major causes of death.

On the surface it looks like a smart move that every Starbucks customer is going to agree is positive; what’s not to like? When you dig below the surface you discover that Starbucks is only giving 5 cents per bottle to the cause. Surely they could afford to be a little bit more generous?

Then there’s the problem of the environmental issue of water bottles, they are costly to transport and hard to dispose of.

There’s an interesting take on the bottled water issue by a reader of the New York Times, who believes we should send all the money we spend on bottle water to the developing world and drink tap water instead.

Ethical issues are tough and complicated and there are always going to be critics. On balance, at least Starbucks is making an effort, they could be selling waters that don’t give back anything and it’s playing a part in raising public consciousness on the issue.

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