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May 25, 2007
Written by Rene Wadlow

Nicolas Sarkozy, the newly elected French President, wanted to mark the difference in governing style between himself and outgoing President Jacques Chirac — although both belonged to the same political party and shared basic political orientations.

However Jacques Chirac had spent his second presidential term under the motto – no waves. In foreign policy, Jacques Chirac had taken the lead in opposing the US intervention in Iraq and had created a temporary Germany-Russia-France alliance against the war. In domestic affairs, Chirac had not used his 82 per cent of the vote victory to push for reforms or new social policies. He had advocated a yes vote on the proposed constitution for the European Union (EU), but ran a confusing and indifferent campaign for its ratification. The constitution was rejected by French voters, followed by that of the Netherlands. Since major decisions in the EU must be taken unanimously, the EU’s institutions must function with rules for its 27 states that already had difficulty at 15. The European Union just celebrated the 50th year of its founding with six states. The EU has grown in number but its institutional practices have not been modified in keeping with its size. The constitution proposed being able to reach decisions by majority vote rather than unanimity.

Chirac had participated fully in European affairs as well as in French-African meetings. He seemed happier to deal with foreign questions — a policy area largely reserved to the French President since the first President of the 5th Republic, Charles de Gaulle. Chiric seemed strangely absent from the domestic scene, addressing the nation only on New Year’s eve and the 14 of July, the national holiday.

Thus Sarkozy ran on a program of a "break with the stagnant past" as though he had not been a member of the outgoing government. In fact, during the five years of Chirac’s second term, Sarkozy had served in two key posts — Ministry of the Economy and Ministry of the Interior. If Chirac spent the last five years largely hidden from public view, Sarkozy, with close and friendly relations with journalists, had developed to a fine art the 30-second sound bite. There was hardly a day that he did not appear on the television news, shaking hands with people or for longer interviews on political talk shows. Not everyone liked Sarkozy, but everyone knew that he was there, giving an impression of being everywhere at once — a man of hyper- activity.

Sarkozy has been running for president for the last five years and made no secret of his ambition. In fact ambition is his most obvious trait. Although ideologically on the Right, he does not belong to any of the traditional currents of Right thinking. Political commentators compare him to Napoleon, but this is more his character, there being no longer a Napoleonic ideology. Sarkozy is like Napoleon in being short, giving an impression of boundless energy, and being an outsider. Napoleon was born when Corsica was not yet French and yet he came to symbolize French power. Sarkozy’s father was a minor noble from Hungary who left Hungary when the Communists took over in 1948. He came to France and married a young law student of Greek-Jewish background. Sarkozy’s father abandoned the family after the third child was born and gave no financial support. Nicolas Sarkozy’s mother finished law school and went to work for the city administration of Neuilly, a Paris suburb with many rich and powerful people. Sarkozy grew up there as an the outsider among the rich.

Sarkozy has the characteristics attributed to the self-made man: If I can do it with hard work, then everybody should be able to do it with hard work. His admiration for the USA is based on the American myth of a place where anyone can get ahead if he tries hard enough and also as the land that gave an opportunity to Hungarian refugees after the 1956 revolt. John F. Kennedy is his model, even if Kennedy was hardly an outsider or a self-made man. Like Kennedy, Sarkozy is happy to show off his beautiful wife and five good looking children and to be seen doing energetic sports, in Sarkozy’s case, jogging. Sarkozy’s admiration for the USA is unlikely to carry over to admiration for all US policies, especially in foreign relations.

In keeping with the image of youth and activity, Sarkozy has named a government of persons considered activists and with a personal image of being willing to take risks to get things done. The most telling image is that of the new Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had earlier served in the Socialist-led government of Francois Mitterand as minister of humanitarian affairs and the minister of health. Kouchner was also the UN administrator for Kosovo and left a good reputation in UN circles for his work there. In France Kouchner is best known as a leading founder of Medecins Sans Frontiers which won the Nobel Prize for Peace. As a young doctor Kouchner had gone for the Red Cross to Biafra during the Nigeria-Biafra war. There he was frustrated by the Red Cross prohibitions on reporting what he saw. Thus he created an NGO that could both heal and speak out. They became well known for their efforts to pick up boat people leaving Vietnam by sea and later working behind Soviet lines in Afghanistan

Kouchner also has never been shy in front of a TV camera, no doubt advised by his wife who is a leading news commentator on French TV. Sarkozy has also named to the government Martin Hirsch, a civil servant who was president of Emmaus, the organization founded by l’Abbe Pierre to help the homeless. In France, the president of an NGO is an unpaid position and is not a full-time administrator. Hirsch had been the chief civil servant when Kouchner was minister of health. Hirsch will be in charge of a newly created post in the government: High Commissioner for National Solidarity, to deal with the homeless and long-term unemployed.

As ecology and sustainable development was a strong theme during the campaign — although all the candidates were in agreement that something needs to be done — Sarkozy has named Alain Juppe — a former Prime Minister who saw himself as a potential president but who does not have the political skills of Sarkozy — as the number two of the government in a new post to deal with ecology and sustainable development as well as transport.

Sarkozy has named a government of people to mark the change of generation from Jacques Chirac and to create a new style of government seen to be acting and in close contact with the people. We will have to wait to see if this will remain public relations image-building or will translate itself into policy and action.

Rene Wadlow is the editor of and an NGO Representative to the United Nations, Geneva. Photo from

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Posted: May 25, 2007 8:11am
May 15, 2007

Trademarking Coffee: Starbucks cuts Ethiopia deal

by Anton FoekSpecial to CorpWatch
May 8th, 2007

Starbucks, the world's largest coffee shop chain, and the Ethiopian government are on the verge of unveiling a deal that the company hopes will end attacks on the company's carefully constructed ethical image.

Starbucks spokesperson Bridget Baker told CorpWatch that "a licensing, distribution and marketing" agreement for three of Ethiopia's specialty coffees would be announced later this month.

If the company recognizes Ethiopia's decision to trademark the three coffees, it would represent a significant climb-down for the multinational corporation that claims to sell "Coffee that Cares."

Starbucks change of mind would also represent success for an international campaign by Oxfam, a British-based not-for-profit organization. More than 93,000 people signed on to its call for Starbucks to complete an agreement with Ethiopia.

An academic at the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School joined the attack with a stinging criticism of the company's stand, accusing it of hypocrisy and questioning its much-proclaimed social responsibility policies. Starbucks executives - running an ambitious global expansion plan that aims to increase the number of the company's coffee houses from 13,700 in 39 countries to 40,000 globally - were also aware that other companies, such as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters ("Fair Trade and Organic"), were cooperating with the Ethiopian initiative and winning praise for "exemplary" behavior.

What the Ethiopians have demanded is Starbucks' support for the country's innovative plan to trademark three of its coffees - Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Until now, the world's largest specialty coffee retailer has resisted the move, arguing instead for certification of bean names. Trademarking, say critics, would give power to growers; certification, they argue, is toothless.

The dispute sounds technical, but at root the controversy is about trying to close the gap between the $4 a Western consumer may pay for a cappuccino and the 50 cents a day earned by a laborer on an Ethiopian coffee farm (or on farms elsewhere in the world: see Brazil box).

Every penny counts, for individuals (an estimated 11 million Ethiopians, about one-fifth of the population, depend on coffee for their livelihoods) and for the nation (coffee provides two-thirds of the country's export earnings).

"Coffee is part of our culture", says Ato Getachew Mengistie, director general of the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office and the driving force behind the trademarking and licensing initiative. He is not exaggerating: coffee probably originated in Ethiopia (though Yemen claims it, too) and the traditional coffee ceremony is a respected ritual steeped in symbolism.

But as U.S.-based human rights organization Global Exchange points out, despite coffee's ranking as the world's most valuable traded commodity after oil (about 500 billion cups drunk a year), many small coffee farmers toil in "sweatshops in the fields", earning less than the costs of production, forced into a cycle of poverty and debt.

The underlying problem in recent years has been an excess of global production over consumption which has depressed prices (although there are fluctuations). For example Brazilian farmers got $1.51 a pound in 1997 but by 2006 this had dropped to 79 cents, while Ethiopia went from 99 cents a pound in 1997 to 61 cents in 2006 (in between they dropped even lower). By contrast Indonesian coffee has gone from 85 cents a pound in 1997 to $1.23 in 2006 while growers in Mexico went up from 81 cents a pound in 1997to $1.42 last year.

But, as with most commodities, the big profits accrue to the retailers and traders, not to the farmers. In the words of coffee economist Stefano Ponte in a BBC World Service program this week, "Coffee itself is only a small ingredient in the price of a cappuccino. We're also buying the cup, the comfortable chair, the background music, the magazines: the total coffee drinking experience."

What's missing from the equation is "the total coffee farming experience". Two developments are trying to rectify the omission: the "fair trade" movement and specialty coffees. The former sets out to give farmers a higher, guaranteed price for their products; the latter earn a premium for quality and distinctive taste.

Enter Starbucks, founded in 1971 by two teachers, Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegel, and writer Gordon Bowker. They modeled it on a little espresso* bar in Berkeley, northern California, named Peet's Coffee and Tea, founded by the son of a Dutch coffee dealer who had migrated to the U.S.

The migrant's bar has become a global force. In April the company announced a 20 per cent increase in revenue for the latest quarter to $2.26 billion (with a similar increase forecast for fiscal 2007), and an 18 per cent increase in profit for the second quarter of the year, to $151 million.

Its brand has been built not simply by chairs, music and magazines, but by providing a feel-good factor for consumers through its Fair Trade associations, its own C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) guidelines "to evaluate, recognize, and reward producers of high-quality sustainably grown coffee", and even by acquiring Ethos water ("helping children around the world get clean water and raising awareness of the World Water Crisis".)

But when Mengistie came up with his trademark plan, Starbucks resisted. Douglas Holt, L'Oréal Professor of Marketing at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, claimed the company went further, and was instrumental in the U.S. National Coffee Association's opposition to the move.

Holt charges Starbucks with working with industry lobbyists to pressure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to turn down Ethiopia's trademark applications, of snubbing attempts by Ethiopian officials to broker an acceptable agreement and launching a media counter-offensive to the Oxfam campaign, publicly scolding Ethiopia's efforts.

"Just as consumers were disgusted by the fact that Air Jordans sold for $120 while Asian laborers produced the shoes in what amounted to slave labor conditions," Holt says on his website, "they will be equally disturbed by the fact that Starbucks is happy to sell coffee for $26/lb while refusing to allow the coffee's producers a shot at climbing out of desperate poverty."

Coffee historian Antony Wild, author of "Coffee, A Dark History", told CorpWatch that the proportion of the price of a cup of coffee is so small that even if farmers received 1,000 per cent more, the price in the coffee shop would rise only 5 per cent.

Ron Layton, a Washington DC attorney with the organization Light Years IP, who has been working with the Ethiopians on the coffee scheme, commented: "It's all a question of power-play."

Layton says that quality coffees - which he compares to fine wines with their own flavors and tastes - are coming into their own, but that producers have not gained much from them. His organization suggests about 45 per cent of the high prices charged by retailers of gourmet coffees should be returned to growers: Ethiopia receives around 6 per cent.

Trademarking could change that (which is why the Ethiopian experiment is being watched by other producers, and other commodities, around the world). Layton estimates that it could earn Ethiopia an extra $88 million a year - a significant gain for a country the United Nations Development Programme ranks as the eighth poorest in the world.

Tadesse Meskele, head of the Oromia Farmers Union, is also happy. He believes the new arrangement will boost premium coffee prices from $1.60 a pound to $4, meaning a better return for growers and more money for laborers.

Meskele features in a film, Black Gold ("expose the truth behind your coffee cup"), which he screened for British members of parliament before he met Prime Minister Tony Blair in London earlier this year. Starbucks has shown its nervousness, and perhaps a lack of deftness in its public relations, by attacking the film and issuing a statement to the company's employees and the media criticizing it as "inaccurate" and "incomplete".

Filmmakers Nick Francis and Marc Francis have expressed "surprise that Starbucks have gone out to discredit the film again. This is not a film specifically about Starbucks, it's a film about the winners and losers in the global coffee industry and it shows the daily reality for millions of coffee farmers.

"We spent six months during the production trying to persuade Starbucks to participate in the film to give them the opportunity to explain how they buy their coffee and how they work in Ethiopia, but they declined our invitation."

Similarly, the company failed to respond to any of my requests for comments when I was writing this article. In the midst of the dispute, a Starbucks news release said it paid an average of $1.28 per pound for its coffees in 2005 - 23 per cent above the average New York price in the same time period.

Additionally, it said it had increased its Ethiopian coffee purchases by nearly 400 per cent between 2002 and 2006, invested in social development projects and provided access to affordable loans in coffee growing regions.

At around the same time Starbucks chief executive officer Jim Donald flew to Addis Ababa to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to refute the allegations of bullying and accusations that it was blocking Ethiopia's trademark initiative.

Does this month's announcement of "agreement in principle" between the company and the government - to be followed by a full agreement later in May - mean recognition of trademarking?

Holt is cautiously optimistic: "We would want to wait until we see the final agreement later this month to make a right judgment. It sounds good. They had been under pressure and promising better behavior and that just might have happened. They had messed up several times and I think I'll take them seriously this time. "

(* espresso: a concentrated drink brewed by forcing hot, but not boiling, water under high pressure through finely ground coffee)

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Posted: May 15, 2007 2:09am


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