C.A.F.E. Practices: Starbucks Approach to Ethically Sourcing Coffee

Starbucks mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit extends well beyond our customers, partners and cafes. We take pride in conducting business responsibly and supporting communities where we do business, from bean to cup. As a company that buys three percent of the world’s coffee, sourced from more than 400,000 farmers in more than 30 countries, Starbucks understands our future is inextricably tied to the future of farmers and their families.

The cornerstone of our ethical sourcing approach to buying coffee is Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices, which was one of the coffee industry’s first set of ethical sourcing standards when it launched in 2004. Developed in collaboration with Conservation International, C.A.F.E. Practices is a verification program that measures farms against economic, social and environmental criteria, all designed to promote transparent, profitable and sustainable coffee growing practices while also protecting the well-being of coffee farmers and workers their families and their communities. C.A.F.E. Practices has helped Starbucks create a long-term supply of high-quality coffee and positively impact the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and their communities. The open-sourced program consists of more than 200 indicators – from financial reporting to protecting workers’ rights and conserving water and biodiversity. The program includes a third-party verification process that is overseen by SCS Global Services, responsible for ensuring the quality and integrity of the audits.

Four Criteria Areas:

  • Economic Transparency:
    • Suppliers are required to submit evidence of payments made for coffee beans throughout the supply chain, including how much was paid directly to farmers for their coffee.
    • Because of economic transparency, we know which farms the beans come from, the names of the farmers, and the price paid to each of them for the coffee.
  • Social Responsibility:
    • Coffee farmers need to protect the rights of people working on their farms and must have measures in place that promote a safe, fair and humane work environment. This includes criteria around wages and benefits, hiring practices, hours of work, use of protective equipment, access to medical care and education.
    • Permanent and temporary/seasonal workers must be paid at least the nationally or regionally established minimum legal wage on a regular basis.
    • There is zero tolerance for any form of child labor.
  • Environmental Leadership:
    • With growing and processing coffee, the program promotes sustainable agricultural practices including measures to protect water quality, improve soil health, preserve biodiversity, reduce agrochemical use, and conserve water and energy.
    • There is zero tolerance for conversion of natural forest to agricultural production since 2004 and use of prohibited pesticides.
    • Following C.A.F.E. Practices Environmental Leadership measures, like maintaining shade trees and ground cover to prevent soil erosion during heavy rains, help farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  • Quality:
    • All coffee must pass our standards for high quality.
    • We only source, roast and sell the highest quality arabica coffee.
    • Starbucks pays premiums that support farmer profitability above commercial market price. These premiums are driven by the fact we buy premium quality coffee that is verified as ethically sourced by C.A.F.E. Practice standards.  We also pay additional premiums to reward supply chains that reach the highest performance level and show continuous improvement in C.A.F.E. Practices.

To see the full list of evaluation criteria, download the C.A.F.E. Practices scorecard.

How it works:

  • First, Starbucks evaluates the coffee quality, and suppliers agree to provide economic transparency down to producer level even before any business is conducted. This is a pre-requisite to doing business with Starbucks.
  • Suppliers then submit a formal application to Starbucks detailing the entire coffee supply chain and committing to implement C.A.F.E. Practices guidelines.
  • Third party organizations, approved and overseen by SCS Global Services, conduct inspections at farms milling facilities and warehouses within the supply chain to evaluate performance against more than 200 indicators in the scorecard.
  • Detailed verification reports are submitted to Starbucks to assign the C.A.F.E. Practice status.
  • Once approved, suppliers are responsible for upholding C.A.F.E. Practices. Suppliers are invited to work with our Farmer Support Center on their continuous improvement work plans to improve their status in C.A.F.E. Practices.
  • To maintain an active status in the program, each supply chain is required to undergo reverification regularly, with frequency dictated by their performance in the program.  

Continuous Improvement:

C.A.F.E. Practices is a verification program, not a one-time certification system, because we believe there is always more work to do to ensure the long-term supply of high-quality coffee and to positively impact farming communities. We are continuously improving this program by working with groups such as Conservation International to measure the true impact our purchasing programs have on participating farmers and producers. The program allows Starbucks to gain insights into the challenges faced by farmers and supply chain operations in the more than 30 different coffee-producing countries around the world.

In addition, when Starbucks is notified of zero tolerance violations, we take immediate action, conducting an investigation which could lead to suspending the commercial relationship with a farm until the case has been clarified. Based on our investigation we may ask our supplier to work with a farm to address any issue including the development of a work plan describing how the issue will be corrected. The implementation of a corrective action plan and the actual correction of any zero tolerance criteria is then re-evaluated by an approved third-party verification organization. This process ensures that any infractions are addressed effectively. We believe that our continuous improvement approach is the right approach to promote positive change amongst these suppliers and farms to ensure a positive future for everyone involved in coffee.

Additional Farmer Support Programs:

C.A.F.E. Practices is just one of the ways in which we support our supply chains and farming communities. We have invested more than $150 million to date to increase the prosperity and resilience of the farmers and workers who grow coffee around the world by investing in coffee communities, sharing technical coffee knowledge, and innovating with new agricultural approaches. Click here to read more about our programs including farmer loans, our open-source agronomy work, farmer support centers and tree donations.