Starbucks is a global coffee brand of enormous popularity. This is not because the coffee is better, the prices are cheaper or the pastries are fresher. The sole reason for the success of the Starbucks brand is the shrewd business practices of the CEO, Howard Schultz. To many Polish people, the youth who think of themselves as global citizens and the upwardly mobile business minded specifically, Starbucks symbolizes America in a nation where many people apparently still suffer from the post-communist credo that "The West is The Best".


As an American arriving for the first time in Krakow I'll admit that I was on the lookout for a Starbucks. This wasn't because I preferred their coffee. It was because since I had arrived in Warszawa a week earlier I was craving something familiar. I didn't speak any Polish and wanted to order a cup of coffee without the assistance of my wife to translate. I may not know Polish but I do know the Starbucks language. While standing in line and looking at the board I immediately realized something that caught my attention...

the prices.

In the United States whenever you're driving long distances and wanting coffee you can be certain that along the way you will see several companies. McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks are 3 of the most popular along the interstate highways. On our week long vacation before moving to Poland my wife and I drove from South Florida up to Chicago. Twice a day while on the road I would order a Venti (Large) White Mocha Frappuccino without whipped cream. Each one came out to roughly $5.00.


I knew that the barista working behind the counter was making about $10.00 an hour, which meant that for every one hour of work they could purchase two of the company's large drinks. While Starbucks in the U.S. does allow its employees to make their own drinks (and gives them a pound of coffee every week for free) the pay versus pricing is significant.

In Poland the large is not a large. The Venti cup here is just slightly larger than the Grande (medium) there. The price, however, is the same, after conversion rates.

In the U.S. my drink is about $5 and in Poland it is 18zl. Even though the exchange rates fluctuate $1 comes out to about 3.2zl on any given date. Not realizing that 18zl will buy me a much better latte and a slice of fresh Polish Cheesecake in a local café I handed over my cash. While waiting for my drink I wondered to myself what the Polish baristas are paid. If my drink costs $5 in the U.S. and the employee is paid $10 an hour then the Polish barista should be getting paid 36zl an hour. To find out what they are paid I pretended that I was looking for a job and asked the employee behind the counter.


To say that I was disgusted by the answer would be an understatement.

Starbucks pays its Polish baristas about 9zl an hour. That is roughly $2.50 an hour. In the United States that low of an amount would be illegal as it doesn't meet the requirements for federal minimum wage. Mexicans who are snuck across the U.S. border to work illegally by industrial farmers to pick strawberries are paid more than that. I'm sure some of my readers may not be shocked due to the fact that they are merely meeting Poland's minimum wage requirement and are simply taking advantage of the benefits of globalization, but they are charging the same amount for even less of their product here which creates a profit margin 3x what it is in the United States.

For a company that loves to brag back in America about how well it looks after its employees this sort of predatory behavior in Poland made me decide then and there that I would never purchase another coffee from Starbucks again. I can't help but wonder: if Schultz and Co. are doing this in Poland, how many other countries around the world are they doing it in also? Maybe what Starbucks needs is an international boycott to straighten them out.