Starbucks has made the move that supporters of ethically-traded coffee have demanded for so long, stating all espresso coffee sold in its British and Irish stores will be Fairtrade-certified by the end of 2009.
The commitment means that Starbucks will now become the largest purchaser of Fairtrade-certified coffee in the world, doubling its purchases to an annual volume of 18.1 million kg.
At a launch event in London today, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz, said: "This marks an important milestone in our long-term commitment to ethical sourcing and support for coffee farmers and their communities.
"By linking our efforts with the global Fairtrade labelling movement, we will be able to have an even larger impact on small farmers, particularly with the opening of Starbucks Farmer Support Centres in Ethiopia and Rwanda early next year."
Darcy Willson-Rymer, managing director of Starbucks UK and Ireland, said, "Consumers here have high levels of awareness about ethical issues relating to the sourcing of products. We believe that working with Fairtrade demonstrates our real commitment."
Speaking to Coffee House magazine, Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, acknowledged that independent beverage operators in the UK shared an ambivalent view towards Starbucks, with the chain praised for being the trailblazer in the new breed of coffee shops but also criticised for its quality and sourcing.
"This is highly significant," she said. "That Starbucks is going to double its Fairtrade purchases is good news for the farmers.
How will other operators view this? Many beverage operators here have showed support for Fairtrade long before Starbucks.
Lamb said she hoped the deal would be seen by the coffee business as a vote of confidence in Fairtrade.
"Those who have already turned to Fairtrade can be proud of being pioneers, and we're proud of them too. But for those who are still thinking about it, this is a signal that Fairtrade coffee can be of great quality. This now puts Fairtrade centre-stage in the coffee world."
By Ian Boughton