Storm in a coffee cup: Essex students battle over Starbucks on campus

Discussion over introduction of Starbucks coffee shop on the Colchester campus has erupted into controversy at the University of Essex

Students at Essex have taken to the Internet to argue either for or against the introduction of a Starbucks on campus – with the debate becoming increasingly heated as both sides attempt to make their case.

The discussion centres around whether or not to allow the global chain store to open on campus, after Essex student union asked its members for their views via social media.

The rival campaigns have set up two groups on Facebook, using the social networking site to further each agenda. Despite the absence of students on campus, the online debate has become increasingly heated over the issue.

The results of the union’s survey indicated that the ‘yes’ vote for Starbucks had won out by a small majority, however, as the president of Essex student union Becky Fishers explained: “Because the results were so close, we have decided not to make any decisions until students return for the start of the new academic year, when we will be holding a referendum as to which supplier we should go with and we will fully support the outcome of the referendum.”

A student involved in the ‘No’ campaign, Neil Bamber, said that the decision to have a Starbucks on campus felt like a further commercialisation of higher education, as well as a tacit approval of the company's tax avoidance practices.

Bamber continued: “For myself and many of the students at Essex these things can't be ignored just for the sake of convenience and profit.

The discussion comes months after Starbucks was exposed for its tax situation – a charge that many against the corporation’s presence on campus have been quick to pick up, alongside their treatment of workers.

The coffee chain is approved by the National Union of Students (NUS) who defended their decision to make such a seemingly controversial chain in the following statement.

"NUS currently works with a range of coffee outlets and providers, and the three contracted suppliers with whom we currently have deals are Starbucks, The Wicked Coffee Company, and Peros who supply Café Direct among others. There is no question of us imposing any particular brand or outlet on any of our member students' unions.

"We do believe that great influence and effect can be made by working with companies, including Starbucks, from within commercial relationships. We have a proud track record of influencing transnational corporations through constructive engagement on ethical and environmental issues of concern to our members, including over allegations of tax avoidance."

Fisher finished by saying how the union welcomed the active contribution of its students towards the discussion.