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Oxfam celebrates win-win outcome for Ethiopian coffee farmers and Starbucks

Starbucks and Ethiopia signed a distribution, marketing and licensing agreement today that ends their trademark dispute and brings them together in partnership to help Ethiopian coffee farmers. International development agency Oxfam welcomes the agreement that has the potential to give farmers a fairer share of the profits for their world-renowned coffee brands, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe.

“Congratulations to our Ethiopian coffee farming partners and to Starbucks on an agreement that recognizes Ethiopians’ right to control the use of their specialty coffee brands,” said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand. “This agreement represents a business approach in step with 21st-century standards in its concern for rights rather than charity and for greater equity in supply chains rather than short term profits.”

In October 2006, Oxfam began an international campaign to raise awareness of Ethiopians’ efforts to gain control over their fine coffee brands. Today, Starbucks has honoured its commitments to Ethiopian coffee farmers by becoming one of the first in the industry to join the innovative Ethiopian trademarking initiative.

“Harnessing market forces and allowing poor countries to benefit from intellectual property rights are keys to creating fairer and more equitable trade,” continued Coates. “In a modern economy, companies must bring their business models in line with the demands of good corporate citizenship, which goes beyond traditional philanthropic approaches to dealing with poverty.”

Nearly three years ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector launched a plan to take better advantage of its intellectual property. The country applied for the trademark registrations of its specialty coffee brands in the United States, Canada, and other countries. At the same time, Ethiopia began negotiating with coffee roasters to sign agreements acknowledging the right of Ethiopians to control these brands.

“With this agreement, Ethiopians can build the value of their coffees and farmers can capture a greater share of the retail price,” Coates concluded. “This should help improve the lives of millions of poor farmers, allowing them to send their children to school and access healthcare.”

According to a press release issued by Ethiopia and Starbucks today, the agreement allows Starbucks to use and promote these coffee brands in markets both where trademarks exist for the brands as well as where they may not, in accordance with agreed terms and conditions negotiated with Ethiopia. Currently Ethiopia has successfully registered trademarks in Canada, the European Union, the United States and Japan.

In New Zealand, Oxfam supporters and members of the Ethiopian community took street and email action as part of the international campaign to encourage Starbucks to engage with Ethiopia directly on the trademarking initiative. In the past eight months, more than 96,000 supporters around the world have called on Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement. Their emails, faxes, phone calls, postcards, and in-store visits helped bring global attention to the issue.

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