Thailand: Starbung Coffee owner stands up to Starbucks in logo spatBy Casey Hynes Oct 25, 2013 12:36PM UTC
The Thai owner behind the Starbung Coffee stand in Bangkok has declared he will not remove his logo, even in the face of mounting legal and financial pressure from US coffee giant Starbucks. Damrong Maslae, a 44-year-old Muslim man from Krabi, Thailand, said he will fight Starbuck’s demands even though he may lose to the wealthy company, according to The Nation.
A Thai law firm filed an injunction on Starbucks’ behalf a year ago, insisting that Damrong remove a logo that is similar to that used by the corporation from his coffee stand, the Nation reported. Damrong’s logo is green, white and black, like the famous Starbucks image, but depicts a man in a cap dishing out coffee, rather than a woman with flowing hair surrounded by stars.
Damrong refused to remove the logo, on the grounds that his logo featured a halal image and did not infringe on Starbucks’ rights. According to The Guardian, Damrong and his brother and partner, Damras Maslae, now face fees that include a 300,000 Thai baht (about $9,620 USD) fine, plus 30,000 baht (nearly $1,000 USD) a month in legal fees and 7.5 percent annual interest until the logo is removed.
One imagines that that money is but a drop in the ocean to a company like Starbucks, which operates around the globe and is one of the most lucrative and well-known coffee brands on the planet. However, that is a steep sum for the average Thai worker, especially considering that Damrong’s and Damras’ stand isn’t likely putting too much of a dent in Starbucks’ business.
Starbucks has argued that “the likeness of the two logos could make customers believe they were buying Starbucks coffee when in fact it was from Starbung”, according to the Guardian. This seems unlikely – after all, how often does one buy Starbucks from a roadside stand? Most travelers in Southeast Asia learn quickly that shops and vendors take on logos similar to popular brands, and don’t expect it’s the real deal. It’s also worth noting that the price of a coffee at Starbucks in Thailand is 3-4 times the price of what you pay at a street coffee stand. The Guardian noted that Damrong claims that his sweet Thai coffee earned considerable praise from customers who told him they preferred it to Starbucks.
That part does seem plausible, but is that Damrong’s fault? Certainly there are many who criticize Starbucks for their high prices and mediocre coffee brews. It seems a petty move on Starbucks’ part, especially considering that the Maslae brothers operate a single cart in Bangkok. They have not opened a franchise with a logo similar to that of Starbucks, but a single stand through which they make their income. As Coconuts Bangkok put it in a caption accompanying a photo of the rickety cart from which the Maslaes sell, “It’s easy to see how customers could confuse this with the 21,000 franchises of the NASDAQ-traded coffee chain.” Shameful.
That Starbucks is levying such a heavy fine and seeking what is a rather considerable sum in Thailand can surely only hurt the company’s image.
The Maslae brothers are currently set to stand trial on Nov. 4, and could be sent to jail if they are found guilty, according to Coconuts Bangkok. Damrong is the father of six children and Starbucks should be ashamed of itself if he gets put away over this petty dispute.
For all that Starbucks congratulates itself on selling fair trade coffee and being a friend to the environment with its recycled products, it seems hypocritical to tout this community-minded attitude while launching a petty suit for a few thousand dollars against two men who financially don’t stand a chance against the corporate giant.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Starbucks’ ugly underbelly has been hinted at. In July 2013, the Christian Science Monitor reported that despite being branded as a coffee grower for the company, some farmers received no benefit at all from working with Starbucks or received no promised assistance from the company.
Despite the possible jail time and fines, Damrong has said he will not give in to Starbucks’ demands, and The Nation reported that he has received much moral support from his customers. One gave him 1,000 baht (roughly US$30) to help fight the case. This is the financial status of the people Starbucks is fighting. Is it really worth it?