Starbucks or McDonald’s Coffee? Fair-trade begins at home.

            image via B.S. Report


The coffee beans were fairly traded back in Guatemala, but what about the person who poured you a cup on your way to work?

There are more than 30,000 McDonald’s outlets employing 4 million workers just in the United States. Nearly 1 in 8 American workers has spent time, at some point in their careers, toiling under the Golden Arches.

Burger-flipping at its finest.

A shift behind the counter at McDonald’s is everything it’s cracked up to be. The pay is low, few work skills are demanded or acquired, turnover can approach 100%, and there is little chance for advancement. The meager benefits include a much-criticized employee health plan that requires most participants to pay annual premiums of $728 for coverage that maxes out at $2,000—an amount that would be eaten up in the first hours of a typical hospital visit.

With a mind-numbing work environment of vinyl and fluorescent lighting and stultifyingly proscribed behavior, it’s the definition of low status minimum wage labor. Literally. The term ‘McJob,’ defined as low-paying dead-end work, was added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003, over the objections and threat of litigation from McDonald’s legal team. The 11,000 U.S. Starbucks employ 105,000.

Despite paying most of its hourly workers little more than minimum wage, Starbucks consistently ranks among the best U.S. employers. Training is extensive, benefits are relatively generous, and there are very real opportunities for advancement. While McDonald’s health plan is a joke, Starbucks spends more on health care for its U.S. employees than it spends for coffee bean purchases.

Starbucks has been beaten up by the global recession and underwent a few years of corporate retrenchment that scaled back compensation, prompting some recent employee grumbling. But overall, the company retains its commitment to a warm and fuzzy, healthy work environment that will attract and retain an enthusiastic corps of workers.

Your coffee can be fairly traded and organic. It can be shade-grown, carbon neutral, and bird-friendly. You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.

We understand how our coffee choices impact global warming, the rain forest, and the working conditions of coffee pickers in Latin America. Let’s pay attention to how they impact the economic lives of the people that brew it for us.


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