What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us

Steamed over coffee prices

Stephen Beard Jan 29, 2007


SCOTT JAGOW: Today in Britain, a man who’s speaking up for Ethiopian coffee farmers gets a meeting with Tony Blair. This spokesman is the subject of a new documentary called Black Gold. He says coffee prices are unfair. Let’s check in with our European Correspondent Stephen Beard on this. Stephen, how unfair?

STEPHEN BEARD: Well Tadesse Meskela says he and his colleagues are selling their coffee for about $1.60 a pound. By the time that coffee reaches the coffee shops, it’s being sold at the rate of $160 a pound. That’s 100 times the rate that the original coffee growers are getting. Meskela says, ‘we need $4 a pound, minimum,’ and he points out that in his community many people are going barefoot. They have no school, they have no clean water and they have no health center.

JAGOW: Well I’ve heard about this documentary here in the States and one of the things I keep hearing is how much Starbucks doesn’t like it.

BEARD: Indeed, Starbucks does appear to be one of the major targets of these campaigners. In fact, Starbucks only buys around 2 percent of its coffee from Ethiopia. However, Starbucks is resisting the attempt by the Ethiopians to trademark their coffee, which would push the prices up. And, critics say, it is clearly Starbucks is doing that because it is concerned other countries might follow suit and that would generally raise the cost of coffee.

JAGOW: OK Stephen, we’ll keep an eye on this one.

BEARD: OK Scott.

JAGOW: Stephen Beard in London.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.