Starbucks in Ubud: MY OPINION by David Mendoza
There is a controversy raging in them tha hills of Ubud. To Starbuck or not? The expat community (those who are talking loud) are mainly against it. But not all. The Balinese probably are not aware of all the political implications and buttons it pushes in some of us. I am forwarding David’s opinion, not because I necessarily agree with it, but because it is eloquently stated and gives rise to a lot of issues that should be discussed with the planners of Ubud.
No matter what, Covarrubias would be turning over in his grave right now.
MY OPINION by David Mendoza
Stuck on jalan Raya in front of the Market this week behind several buses, the one directly in front spewing black exhaust all over us, I was looking through the black cloud at the emporiums next to the Palace. VERSUS, VERSACE, HILFIGER, POLO, whatever and wondering how this ever could have happened to Ubud.
But it has. And I was very happy to learn at Rotary last night that there was a group meeting to discuss these assaults on Ubud, and Bali– esp. the busses. I also heard about the possibility of a Starbucks opening in Ubud and an effort to stop it.
Although I would not lead an effort to bring Starbucks to Ubud I vote “YES” to having Starbucks in Ubud.
First, full disclosures. I am from Seattle, the home of Starbucks. The people who started Starbucks many long years ago included friends who were desperate to have the kind of coffee we had all been drinking on our college tours around Europe. It opened in a little spot in the Public Market which is still there.
Second, I own some shares of Starbucks which I bought mostly out of sentimentality on the day the company was made public. Fortunately, the sentimentality was not just that. I mention that, however, because, as a stockholder, I get annual reports and news about the company.
Thirdly, I know people who have or still work for Starbucks, both at the coffee shop level and in corporate.
However, I am not an apologist, a PR person, a sales rep, or even sometimes a great fan of Starbucks coffee. It has become a sport to bash Starbucks and sometimes for good reason. When I am in Seattle I go to some other favorite coffee bars in my neighborhood, as well as the FOUR that are within one block of where I stay. The original location is 3 blocks away but is jammed with Asian tourists taking photos. I probably go more often to Starbucks in SE Asia! Singapore, KL, or Bangkok. They are usually handy, and I know I will get decent coffee.
Now to my points.
Why to “refuse” Starbucks in Ubud — since they are already on Bali? Some reasons might be because they are a “corporate chain” or they will compete with Tutmak or Moka, or one doesn’t like their coffee.”
To refuse them because they are a corporate chain would be making them the “last straw” on the proverbial camel’s back. What is Ralph Lauren, Polo, Armani, Gucci, Prada, Circle K, Versace, Hilfiger, etc. etc. etc? Or our own local “chain” Delta Mart, cum 7 Eleven. Oddly, the answer is that these are international brand names that actually have little if any connection to their namesake corporations. Their storefronts mimic the design and “style” of the real brands, the goods are fake, and who are the owners of these emporiums? Not Mr. Lauren, or Signori Armai, or Ms. Prada and their companies.
And a 7 Eleven is a 7 Eleven by any name, competing with the little local warungs for the convenience items purchased by locals and tourists.
To refuse them for competition is also a questionable reason. In Seattle, there are more coffee shops now than when Starbucks opened, hundreds more, and I don’t mean Starbucks. Granted, in the rapid expansion phase of Starbucks which also caused problems for its stock price, they rushed to open too many, and some small coffee places in some cities did close. But at the same time, Starbucks brought the idea of “cappucino” to many small towns and inspired local entrepreneurs to open their own shop — I have been to many of these and they often are better than Starbucks.
People in Ubud will still go to Tutmak, Moka, Three Monkeys, Kafe, Casa Luna, Bali Buddha, etc. because they are what they are, good places to eat, drink espresso or beer, and enjoy, and yes, because they are “local” and well-done.
Ironically, if they are to be refused because one doesn’t like their coffee, that might be the most valid point! But, of course, they are much more than coffee now and I usually go for the Green Tea Frappucino with only a little whip cream.
But now to my REAL POINTS.
Starbucks is one of the most progressive international corporations. They introduced “Fair Trade” coffee, and “Organic” coffee for the first time on the large scale of food retailers. In the US at least, they provide health coverage for even part-time workers. Starbucks has an excellent corporate giving program and policies and they give back in the communities both where they buy their coffee beans — including Indonesia — and where they sell coffee.
Starbucks buys a lot of coffee from Indonesia, albeit not to my knowledge from Bali. They consider Indonesian coffee amongst the best and are now working to develop a buying presence in Aceh to support the coffee growers there as they did in Timor Leste. They often feature single grower coffees from Sulawesi, Sumatera. They have helped foster the expansion of organic coffee growing through their buying power.
Starbucks employees are encouraged to do community service work and get credit for it, volunteering in a wide variety of projects from education, health care, environment, etc.
Starbucks began a program to recycle all their coffee grounds for compost and other purposes, as well as other waste.
But is Starbucks still an international corporation? Yes.
But what is Ralph Lauren, Polo, Versace in Ubud? Is there a corporate owner whose annual reports we can study to see what their policies are regarding child labor — who makes those fake things for sale in their shops? Can we find out what they pay their suppliers? What their environmental policies are? Do they have corporate giving programs to support within the communities where they do business or manufacture? Are they engaged in “fair trade”? Do they publish and annual report?
And, do they care about the aesthetics and cultural design traditions of Ubud when they create their ugly stores? And would they like to join Rotary? Who are they really — actually it would be interesting to find out who owns those places? Starbucks has learned to try to fit into a neighborhood — oddly sometimes criticized for doing so, i.e. making an attempt to look like the neighborhood they are in rather than, for example, a Jakarta-Singapore style restaurant building on Monkey Forest Road on Bali.
As I said above I would never have led a charge to get Starbucks to Ubud, much less Bali. But they are on Bali. And, I for just one vote would prefer them to the rest of the faux-corporations who have begun to destroy Ubud, the place I love.
A group like the think-tank could easily get a meeting with the Starbucks team working on this shop to discuss design concerns, find out what their policies are, express local concerns. Starbucks would welcome it. And IF they were to open, groups like Rotary could work with them on community projects of mutual concern. They would be present in Ubud beyond just as a seller of so-so espresso. And, as has happened in the past, their presence and policies might have some impact on other businesses here.
One last thing, Starbucks has an excellent training program for staff, in fact demands a high level of training and competence. One of the things I am impressed with when I go to any Starbucks — esp. those in Asia — is what great staff they have. Open, friendly, efficient, helpful. This is another bonus. These young people will not likely retire from Starbucks, but they will go on to other work and have this experience for the rest of their lives.
There are a lot of things to be done and energy and resources expended to try to help “Save Ubud” but I think they would be better put to use on other issues. Perhaps this “controversy” could lead to developing a basis for Ubud to review the corporate entities that want a presence in Ubud. Develop some criteria regarding company policies on environment, employees, community service and donations, etc. to review and then “refuse” or “invite” the company to Ubud.
Maybe “INVITE” should be the concept. Ubud is special, one should be “invited” to have an opportunity to be here and do business.
So, as already stated above, I vote YES to Starbucks. It is too late to vote NO. But with my YES vote I am also voting for community involvement, participation, sensitivity, partnership, something much needed here to help us “Save Ubud.” For me to vote to refuse Starbucks I would have to know that all the powers that be in Ubud, locals from government to royal and the Balinese residents as well as expats who love this place, will guarantee that not one more commercial assault on Ubud will be allowed here. I understand that their possible location is near or next to the palace, across from the market. The idea of refusing something like Starbucks in that particular location is almost amusing. Next time I am stuck behind 5 busses I could at least get off the bike and have a green tea frappucino with only a little whip cream.