Starbucks is to make every cappuccino, mocha and latte it sells in Britain Fairtrade in an attempt to reverse a sales slump that has hit its global expansion.
The US coffee chain said that by the end of next year all the espresso-based drinks in its 700 British and Irish stores would be made from beans grown by growers who receive improved levels of pay.
Some 100,000 farmers in Latin America, Asia and Africa will benefit from the promise, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, the London-based organisation which oversees the development movement.
Fairtrade co-operatives receive a guaranteed rate of at least $1.25 (82p) per lb of green beans, plus a "social premium" of 10 US cents per lb towards community projects such as building schools and hospitals.
At present 6 per cent of Starbucks' coffee sales around the world is certified as Fairtrade, but the company said as a result of its commitment it would become the largest buyer of Fairtrade coffee in the world, doubling its global purchases to 40 million pounds in 2009.
The move may help reinvigorate sales in the UK, which have been hit by competition from the rival chains Costa Coffee and Caffé Nero and from other food and drink companies such as McDonald's and Wetherspoon.
Costa Coffee, which has 821 stores in its UK chain, last month announced that part of its bean supply would be sourced from farms approved by the Rainforest Alliance, which ensures raised environmental and labour standards. On a visit to London yesterday, Starbucks' chairman and chief executive Howard Schultz said that the store wanted to differentiate itself from its rivals by doing more to help poor growers. "We've done something that's far beyond what any coffee company in the UK has ever done before," he said.
"This is a long-term commitment will not only benefit our farmers, but will give our customers the assurance that the coffee they're buying in Starbucks in terms of espresso-based beverages is at a price that will allow sustainability for those people who need it most."
He said the move was not a gimmick, and also indicated that the Fairtrade commitment here would eventually be rolled out globally. Asked whether he intended to expand the UK and Ireland scheme across the world, he replied: "The goal is to do exactly that. But things like that take a long time in terms of creating a long-term supply chain operation.
"This is not a small task, but our goal is certainly to integrate as much Fairtrade coffee in all of our operations well beyond our announcement today."