Starbucks Corp. announced Wednesday it will install high-tech sensors to detect tampering with its cargo containers filled with coffee beans shipped from Guatemala to Europe or the United States.
Starbucks, the world's leading coffee retailer, had participated in an ongoing study by the Homeland Security Department that warned such containers can be opened secretly during shipment to add or remove items without alerting authorities.
The $75 million, three-year study, called "Operation Safe Commerce," said such risks could allow terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States. The study is considered "sensitive security information," but The Associated Press reported its findings earlier this week.
Part of the U.S. study tracked shipments of coffee beans from Guatemala's Palin Dry Mill to Starbuck's Green Bean plant in Kent, Wash., and found serious security problems.
Starbucks said Wednesday it will install "CommerceGuard" sensors from General Electric Co. on shipments of green coffee beans from Guatemala to detect whether anyone opened cargo containers during shipment. The sensors attach magnetically to the inside of containers and record any opening of the doors.
"We are taking a proactive approach in securing our supply chain to ensure the safety of our customers, partners, employees, communities and countries of origins," said Dorothy Kim, executive vice president of Starbucks' supply chain operations.
GE said after a three-month test, its sensors accurately recorded each time a cargo container door was opened during shipment.
The U.S. study complained that no records were kept of "cursory" inspections in Guatemala for large cargo containers filled with Starbucks coffee beans. "Coffee beans were accessible to anyone entering the facility," the study said. It also found significant mistakes on manifests and other paperwork.