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Consumer group sues Starbucks over 'ethical' sourcing claims

Credit: REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS

By Brendan Pierson

Jan 10 (Reuters) - A U.S. consumer group sued Starbucks on Wednesday, accusing the Seattle-based coffee chain of falsely advertising its tea and coffee as "ethically" sourced while obtaining it from farms plagued by human rights abuses in Kenya, Brazil and Guatemala.

The National Consumers League said in a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia that Starbucks "sources 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."

Starbucks said the company would defend itself against the claims.

"We take allegations like these extremely seriously and are actively engaged with farms to ensure they adhere to our standards," it said.

National Consumers League, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group founded in 1899, said Starbucks' false statements included saying it was "committed to 100% ethical coffee sourcing" and to "100% ethically sourced tea."

In fact, the group said, investigations by journalists and governments have uncovered abuses at Starbucks suppliers around the world.

For example, it said, last year, BBC reporters exposed "rampant" sexual violence against women at a tea plantation in Kenya, and Brazilian authorities issued a complaint against Starbucks' largest Brazilian coffee supplier for conditions "analogous to slavery." In 2020, the United Kingdom's Dispatches television program documented widespread child labor at coffee farms in Guatemala, according to the lawsuit.

Starbucks said last year that it had halted purchases from the operator of the Kenya plantation. In 2020, it said that it had halted purchases from farms implicated in child labor for that harvest season.

It was not immediately clear what action it has taken in response to the Brazilian prosecutor's action.

National Consumers League said in its lawsuit Starbucks has continued using suppliers after abuses were uncovered, and even certified them as ethical according to purported standards it developed itself.

The group is accusing Starbucks of violating the District of Columbia's consumer protection law, and is asking the court to order Starbucks to halt its allegedly false advertising and award unspecified money damages. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Aurora Ellis) ((Brendan.Pierson@thomsonreuters.com; 332-219-1345 (desk); 646-306-0235 (cell);)) Keywords: STARBUCKS LAWSUIT (PIX)

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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