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Starbucks Sued For Deceptive Marketing

Starbucks is being sued by a consumer advocacy group alleging that the global coffee chain falsely and deceptively advertises the “committed to 100% ethical sourcing” claim on its coffee and tea products.

The lawsuit, filed by the National Consumers League in a Washington, DC court, alleges that Starbucks misrepresents to consumers that it is “committed to 100% ethical coffee sourcing” and to “100% ethically sourced tea” even as it continues to source coffee beans and tea leaves from cooperatives and farms that “have committed documented, severe human rights and labor abuses, including the use of child labor and forced labor as well as rampant and egregious sexual harassment and assault.”

“On every bag of coffee and on every box of K cups sitting on our grocery store shelves, Starbucks is telling consumers a lie,” Sally Greenberg, CEO of consumer advocacy group National Consumers League, said. “The facts are clear. There are significant human rights and labor abuses across Starbucks’ supply chain,” she said.

The goal of the lawsuit is to protect consumers nationwide, who may “unknowingly be buying unethically sourced coffee or tea” from the brand and be paying a a premium for those products, according to the consumer league.

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“Consumers have a right to know exactly what they’re paying for,” Greenberg said in a news release.

Supply chain criticism

Greenberg alleged “well-documented instances” for years in the retailer’s supply chain of “slavery-like conditions,” child labor, human trafficking and other exploitative working conditions on farms and co-ops where Starbucks sources its coffee and tea.

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She referenced an incident dating back to 2022 when a Brazilian labor prosecutor issued a complaint against Starbucks’ largest Brazilian supplier, “citing working conditions analogous to slavery, including illegally trafficking more than 30 migrant workers.”

The lawsuit, however, cites investigative reportsin Brazil this year about workers at a Starbucks’ certified coffee supplier who allegedly were victims of wage theft by their employer, in violation of Brazilian law.

A separate investigative report from the BBC in February 2023 looked into alleged gender-based violence and sexual harassment at a Kenyan tea plantation, which the report said supplied to Starbucks at the time.

Greenberg said her group is seeking to restrict Starbucks from further engaging in deceptive advertising and to run a corrective advertising campaign.

”Starbucks must reform its sourcing practices to ensure that workers on the farms and cooperatives that supply its coffee and tea products are treated fairly and in accordance with the law,” she said.

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