Wikileaks: Starbucks vs Government of Ethiopia

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In 2006/2007 the Ethiopian government (GoE) and different NGOs had a highly publicized dispute with Starbucks over trademarking Ethiopian coffee brands.  As this wikileaks cable puts it, Starbucks feared “that Ethiopia would eventually charge a fee to distribute and sell the country’s coffee beans if it were granted the trademarks” by the USPTO. At the time it had appeared that negative publicity had forced Starbucks to drop its opposition to the government’s efforts.  The truth was that in an effort to stop the GOE, Oxfam and others, the company recast the matter as a government trade dispute and got the help of the the US embassy in Addis Ababa.  Starbucks wanted the US government to “educate Ethiopia on the merits of a certification process” rather than pursuing trademarks; a position which the embassy endorses in the same cable.  The ability of Starbucks to escalate matters and move the debate out of the public sphere shows the lopsided relationship between African states and western corporations.   More on the coffee dispute and its resolution can be read from the Poor Farmer & Coffee Politics blog (here and here).

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