Bitter aftertaste


Doreen Massey on Starbucks' failure to introduce anti- porn filters in its outlets around the world

Little did I realise what would happen when I said “it is time Starbuck’s woke up and smelled the coffee” in the House of Lords last November that we would need to return to the issue again. 

I was speaking during Crossbencher Elspeth Howe’s private members bill debate on Child Internet safety and it led to me appearing on page 2 of The Sun. Children’s Charity champion John Carr had told me that Starbucks provided access to hardcore porn websites to anyone logging into the free Wi-Fi service available in their several hundred UK cafes. Even worse, BT was the company contracted to provide the service; begging the question were two commercial giants simultaneously losing their moral compass?

It would be trivial, easy and cheap for Starbucks and BT to install a filter to block out hardcore porn, and since the coffee chain’s own rules prohibit customers from accessing such sites while on their premises seemed straightforward.

I’m happy to say that within hours of the Lords debate ending, Starbucks and BT issued a statement saying they would introduce anti- porn filters before Christmas. They were as good as their word, and I thought it a great example of how Parliament can quickly deliver a good result.

This week however, I have been saddened to learn that Starbucks and BT, having done the right thing in the UK, are failing to follow through their actions in many of the other countries where they operate. Surely the two companies can see that kids everywhere deserve protection from porn? Or are their consciences limited by geography?

John Carr has now used his networks across the world to test Starbucks’ Wi-Fi filters. In each of the 14 European countries where these tests were carried out, hardcore porn is still available; and BT provides the service in five – Germany, Holland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The situation was the same for Starbucks in eight countries beyond Europe – Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, India, Japan, New Zealand and the USA; although BT was not the provider in any of these. 

There were three countries where hardcore porn was not on tap in Starbucks outlets: Oman, South Korea and Thailand. In each case, local law requires all such sites to be filtered. It would be safe to assume therefore that they only act when under pressure, as happened here following the Lords debate, or where they are legally obliged. 

That is not how a company that boasts about its ethics should behave. So, to avoid a bitter aftertaste following their action in the UK, Starbucks must now put things right globally – and do it fast.

Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 21st March 2013 


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