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Nathan Imhoff: Starbucks' save-the-world marketing scam

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Posted: December 16, 2009 10:22 p.m.
Updated: December 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.
During a recent trip to a local Starbucks, I noticed a sign on the bulletin board that stated Starbucks has helped provide 6 million days of medicine for people with AIDS in Africa.

Don't get me wrong, I love coffee and I love people who try to save the world, and at first glance it appears Starbucks is doing both. In a way they are, kind of.

Six million days of medication sounds like a huge number, until you start crunching the numbers. It costs $140 per person for 365 days' worth of AIDS medication. This means the mighty coffee juggernaut that has revenues exceeding $10 billion per year gave $2.3 million to the Global Aids Fund.

That still seems like a lot of money, but let's put that amount in perspective. Divide that $2.3 million by Starbucks' 16,635 locations and the days in a year, and you find out your local Starbucks gave about 38 cents a day to help fight AIDS in Africa - not even the price of a regular coffee, let alone a pricey latte.

Go into your local Starbucks and look at the Product (RED) cups and fair trade coffees they are peddling in the name of AIDS research. The pricey insulated cup runs $16, of which Starbucks will donate $1 to the Global AIDS fund - that is not even 10 percent.

How much does Starbucks make off this cup, which I might add costs more then all the other cups of the same design? I am not one of those people who villainize a company for making a profit, I am simply saying if you are going to use poor Africans with AIDS to pull on the heartstrings of Americans to buy overpriced products, you should be giving a significant amount to the cause you're using to make that profit.

Six percent is a ridiculously low number. Starbucks is essentially exploiting people with AIDS in Africa to make a profit, which is really kind of despicable when you think about it.

Bono, frontman for the rock band U2, summed this whole scam up best in a speech he gave last October at a Starbucks manager meeting: "This is not charity. This is commerce."

So Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz can do all the photo ops in Rwanda he wants; I am still not buying this insincere attempt at keeping Starbucks' corporate image squeaky clean.

This really isn't anything new for Starbucks, it has always been an expert at giving the impression it cares. It's brilliant when you think about it; how else do you not look greedy selling $4 lattes to America's yuppies?

Schultz likes to tell sad stories of growing up with a father who worked himself to death and only made $20,000 a year, which is supposed to give the impression Schultz and his $1.3 million annual salary is really just like you, only he can pay his bills and take a few years off work.

Give me a break.

I will give Schultz credit, though. Since he came back to Starbucks almost two years ago, I have noticed more consistency in my drinks. So, good job.

The Starbucks marketing people love to brag how they offer health insurance to all their employees, but they conveniently leave out the many loopholes their employees now must jump through in order to get and keep their insurance.

Everyone is quick to call out the evil empire that is Wal-Mart for only giving health insurance to 47 percent of its 1.3 million U.S. employees.

Most people don't even realize that is 5 percent better than the supposed employee-friendly Starbucks, which only gives health insurance to 42 percent of its 127,000 employees.

Now add Starbucks being a huge union-busting company, bullying any employees who even give off the scent of unionization.

Starbucks even went so far as to not hire any potential employee who had ever worked for a union.

To show it meant business, the company fired a human relations employee who wouldn't follow this illegal policy.

But in America, perception is more important than reality. So in 2007 Schultz got the "First Magazine Award For Responsible Capitalism."

What is next? Bernard Madoff getting an award for integrity in business?

I didn't write all this to smear Starbucks or call for a boycott, because frankly, I am one of those yuppies who likes his convenient $4 coffees available on every street corner. I am an addict and fully admit that.

I try to go to Peet's Coffee when I am near one but they are few and far between, so Starbucks will usually earn my $4 latte purchase.

I only wrote this to call some attention to Starbucks' exploitation of world crises for profit.

Selling an overpriced AIDS-related product, then only throwing a few pennies to the cause just seems wrong. Come on Howard Schultz, where is the soul you claim to have?

Nathan Imhoff is a Newhall resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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