“I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one.”
Neil Young, via his amazing time capsule of a Geocities website, has announced that he is boycotting Starbucks. This announcement, which has caused a mild media dust-up, rides the coat-tails of Young’s latest over-the-top double album release, Storytone, earlier this month. Is Neil Young making a worthwhile statement or is he just looking for a little media attention? What the sam hell is this all about anyway?
Well, Neil Young’s boycott grows out of a viral campaign against Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee driven by SumOfUs.org, a petition website billing itself as a “new world-wide movement for a better global economy.” Why? Because the two companies are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the “world’s largest trade association representing the food, beverage, and consumer products industry.”
The association is involved in a threatened lawsuit against Vermont, summed up thusly via Snopes.com:
On 13 June 2014, the GMA issued a press release stating its intent to challenge the law in Vermont, positing the law was unconstitutional and citing the First Amendment.
The association’s members include much larger fish in the food pond, like Nestlé, Kelloggs, and Dean Foods, but SumOfUs.org chose to target Starbucks with the idea that they could be swayed by a social media campaign due to their relative size and their general commitment to ethical trade and labor practices.
“Starbucks doesn’t think you have the right to know what’s in your coffee. So it’s teamed up with Monsanto to sue the small U.S. state of Vermont to stop you from finding out,” SumOfUs.org’s petition reads. But wait, there’s more!
According to the petition, “hiding behind the shadowy ‘Grocery Manufacturers Association’, Starbucks is supporting a lawsuit that’s aiming to block a landmark law that requires genetically-modified ingredients be labeled. Amazingly, it claims that the law is an assault on corporations’ right to free speech.”
Shadowy! Neil Young, in his digital diatribe, echoed SumOfUs.org’s wordin’: “The next strategic step is to pressure and call out members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the shadowy body leading the lawsuit.”
So, what’s the deal? Is GMA, in fact, shadowy? Has Starbucks teamed up with Monsanto?! Do we only have 48 hours to raise $20,000 before mean old Mr. McGillicuddy tears down the community center to build a garbage dump?
For all manners of frothy gossip on the internet, we turn to Snopes.com, who’ve concluded that this particular piece of gossip is a frothy mixture of truths and fabrications.
Snopes says that while it’s true that “Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group challenging Vermont over GMO labeling requirements,” it’s false that “Starbucks has joined forces with Monsanto to sue the state of Vermont over GMO labeling requirements.”
“Neither Starbucks nor Monsanto is participating in our lawsuit to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law,” GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy said in an email to Reuters.
Though Reuters does note that:
Kennedy, the GMA spokesman, did not respond to questions related to that account.
To further dispute SumOfUs.org’s claims, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has elaborated on Starbucks’ relationship with the organization. CNN reports that “as an affiliate member, [Starbucks] is not involved in any policy, governance, or legal work with the Association, which includes the lawsuit in Vermont.”
Though Neil Young’s boycott attempt has focused on Starbucks, the SumOfUs.org petition includes Green Mountain Coffee as one of Starbucks’ and Monsanto’s co-conspirators. Green Mountain started off as a single cafe in Vermont, but over the years has expanded to become one of the biggest names in coffee. The massive corporation recently renamed itself Keurig Green Mountain to foreground the engine of this expansion: the Keurig or “k-cup” single-serving coffee brewers and the branded ecosystem of disposable coffee and beverage pods for those brewers.
When asked for comment, Keurig Green Mountain’s Sandy Yusen said, “Green Mountain Coffee has not directly or indirectly funded or been involved in the [GMA] lawsuit.” When asked whether KGM was an affiliate member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association like Starbucks, Yusen responded that they are a general member of the GMA, but that Keurig Green Mountain has “confirmed with the GMA that our membership dues are not allocated to the lawsuit in Vermont or to other anti-labeling campaigns.”
Neil Young’s website, as of Friday November 21, stood strong in its anti-Starbucks sentiment. Huffington Post published an op-ed by Jacob Devaney, who feels that targeting a member of GMA is easier than boycotting the entire GMA. Devaney exclaims, “Let’s hope that [Starbucks and Green Mountain] hear us and do the right thing!”
According to Reuters, Starbucks says its membership with the GMA “gives it a voice in industry debates.” Starbucks says they don’t support the lawsuit, and Keurig Green Mountain has now asserted that their GMA dues are not supporting the lawsuit either. What will be the impact of singling out those major players as culpable in a political movement away from labelling transparency, even though each company can claim, through technicalities, that the GMA’s actions don’t speak for them? Will we see larger corporations taking more active responsibility—perhaps even dissent—for the actions of umbrella groups they’ve aligned with, or is this just a new caramel swirl topping an old, played-out latte of diversion and corporate loopholery? And most importantly, who is doing Neil Young’s sweet web and graphic design and how do we hire them?
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!