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May 7, 2002

USA: Starbucks CEO warns coffee industry on sustainability, quality

Orin Smith, the CEO of leading coffee retailer Starbucks, has warned that the coffee industry is under “severe threat” and urged the audience at an industry event in Anaheim, California, to think about long-term sustainability of the coffee industry.

Orin Smith, the CEO of leading coffee retailer Starbucks, has warned that the coffee industry is under “severe threat” and urged the audience at an industry event in Anaheim, California, to think about long-term sustainability of the coffee industry.

“Our industry is under a severe threat. Farms in Mexico and Guatemala are going out of business and quality is degraded,” said Smith.

Smith was speaking as he accepted the coffee industry’s first humanitarian award, the Humanitarian Medial of Merit, from the Coffee Quality Institute.

“Philosophy is good, but not good enough. NGOs (nongovernmental organisations], governments, we all need to address sustainability and educate the consumer,” said Smith, adding: “It’s not just a moral issue but it is also in our financial self interest.”

In an interesting departure, Smith called on fairtrade organisations to work more closely with industry to improve the quality and volume of fairtrade coffee, saying: “The scope is too small with only 160 million pounds certified as Fair Trade. There can be tremendous growth but it doesn’t have the quality standards we’d like to see.”

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