When LSA sophomore Kristin Cibik went to the Starbucks coffee shop on State Street yesterday for her daily cup of coffee, she encountered a group of students, professors and community members protesting outside the doors.
“I think it”s ridiculous,” Cibik said. “I”ve never had any problems with the service or the coffee. I don”t think these people will make a difference to anyone on this campus.”
The protest was part of a national initiative by various environmental and labor groups who coordinated yesterday”s demonstration in more than 50 cities. The protest coincided with the annual shareholders” meeting of the multinational corporation in Seattle. Ann Arbor”s protesters included the Organic Consumers Association and Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.
John Vandermeer, a University biology professor, was part of the local protest and said one goal was to ensure that the corporation produces and markets Fair Trade coffee on a daily basis. Fair Trade certification increases farmers” incomes through forming cooperatives and linking them directly to coffee importers.
“When I go into the store, people don”t know what I”m talking about when I ask for it,” Vandermeer said. “I would pay more for it because it assures people are getting fair wages.”
In response to the complaints of protesters, Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Orin Smith issued a written statement March 16 saying the corporation is currently taking steps to increase the amount of Free Trade coffee in stores.
“As with all our coffees, customers can always obtain brewed Fair Trade coffee at any time upon request,” he said in the statement.
Though the manager of the store would not comment aside from saying that the store had Fair Trade coffee in stock, Starbucks” employees did not have the coffee brewed when a reporter attempted to purchase a cup.
Another concern of the protesters was the use of genetically modified materials in Starbucks” products such as bottled drinks and ice cream.
“Starbucks is one of the largest coffee chains, and we aim to change the way they do business,” Vandermeer said. Recombinant bovine growth hormone “is known to be a dangerous substance.”
Vandermeer said Starbucks also needs to understand the implications of using genetically modified crops as part of their inventory.
“Corporations in Europe already know to keep these materials out of the food chain,” Vandermeer said. “Hopefully people in this country will get on the bandwagon and figure out what”s going on soon.”
Though the groups yesterday claimed they were not attempting to keep customers from frequenting the store, Ann Arbor resident Christine Modey said she was boycotting the chain.
“Americans are getting more and more concerned,” Modey said. “We want to know the what”s in the food we are eating.”
Modey said she wanted mandated labels denoting genetically modified foods so she could choose products based on their ingredients.
One LSA sophomore said she was extremely upset that she couldn”t study because of the protesters.
“This is very disturbing,” she said. “I”m just trying to study and they are preventing my work. They are not going to accomplish anything.”
Two Ann Arbor police officials were on hand for the protest, which remained peaceful. Several customers chose to go elsewhere, which Vandermeer said signified progress.
“I think we are effective in drawing attention to the issues. This is just the start of a long campaign which we hope that some consumers are concerned about,” he said.