Issue Two: Starbucks vs. Ethiopia
In March 2005, Ethiopia filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to trademark its coffee names, Harar, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe, which are three coffee regions in the country. The Ethiopian government had hoped that by forcing coffee buyers into licensing agreements would lead to coffee farmers gaining more control over its coffee trade and earn a bigger slice of the pie by receiving a higher percentage of earnings from the retail price of coffee. It is estimated that Ethiopian farmers could earn up to USD 88 million extra per year. Oxfam America had accused Starbucks of prompting the National Coffee Association of USA (NCA) to oppose the trademark application which eventually influenced the decision of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reject the Ethiopian government’s application to trademark its coffee names. There are several justifications behind the Ethiopian government’s intention to trademark its coffee names. It is said that an estimated 15 million people in Ethiopia rely on coffee trade as their source of income either directly or indirectly and over 40-50% of Ethiopia’s export income comes from coffee export. Facts have also shown that more than 75% of Ethiopians earn less than US$1 a day. According to the Make Trade Fair campaign, although specialty Ethiopian coffee such as Harar and Sidamo are sold for over $26 a pound because of their quality and taste, Ethiopian coffee farmers only collect an average of up to 10 percent of the profits from coffee sales while 90 percent goes to roasters, importers, distributors. As Tadesse Meskela, head of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia, puts it, “I believe that most people would see this as an injustice because the profit that the Ethiopian coffee farmers are earning is barely enough to even cover the cost of production.” The underlying fact that millions of coffee farmers in Ethiopia live in poverty shows that they might not...
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