Starbucks CEO hits back at Gaza boycott amid 'record losses'
Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan said on Tuesday people protesting against the company over its actions amid Israel's war on Gaza have been "influenced by misrepresentation on social media" of what the coffee chain stands for.
The coffee company became the target of pro-Palestine boycotts after it sued the Starbucks Workers United union in October over a social media post in support of Palestine.
Narasimhan, in a letter to employees, noted many of Starbucks' stores have experienced incidents of vandalism, and added the company has worked with local authorities to ensure the safety of its workers and customers.
“While I am grateful for so much, I am concerned about the state of the world we live in. There are conflicts in many parts. It has unleashed violence against the innocent, hate and weaponized speech and lies — all of which we condemn,” he wrote. “Our stance is clear. We stand for humanity.”
The coffee chain is among several Western brands that have come under pressure from consumers calling for companies to take a stance in the Israel's war on Gaza, with some even facing boycott campaigns in Arab countries.
Seattle-based Starbucks won’t yet say how its sales have been impacted. The company’s next quarterly sales report won’t come out until February, but there are indications Starbucks is taking a sales hit.
In an early December report, JP Morgan analyst John Ivankoe lowered his US sales forecast for Starbucks’ fiscal first quarter, saying holiday sales appeared to be slower than promotions in the fall. Starbucks' share price tumbled on the news.
Meanwhile, videos posted on X show protests and empty stores in London, Australia, Dubai and elsewhere.
Starbucks has also been offering more deals than usual to draw customers, including half-price drinks on Thursdays.
Video: Somebody held a one-person protest outside of a KFC and Starbucks in Tokyo's Akabane neighborhood yesterday holding "Ceasefire" and "Stop Gaza Genocide" signs. It was shared with hashtags asking people to boycott both companies. pic.twitter.com/8WXQ1Lzij2— Jeffrey J. Hall 🇯🇵🇺🇸 (@mrjeffu) December 20, 2023
Seattle-based Starbucks also sued the Workers United union in October, which represents thousands of baristas at about 360 US stores, after the union had posted a pro-Palestinian message on social media.
The company said the post "reflected" the union's "support for violence perpetrated by Hamas".
Starbucks at the time said it "unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate and violence", adding it strongly disagreed with the views expressed by the union.
But protesters saw the company’s move as pro-Israel.
In mid-November, the company refiled its lawsuit. This time, it included language saying it respected workers' rights to express their views on the war in the Middle East and other political issues, and said the lawsuit was about protecting workers' safety and Starbucks' reputation.
In an interview with news agency Associated Press (AP), a student at Kent State University in Ohio said that it has been tough to get her caffeine fix without stopping at one of the Starbucks stores on campus.
But she's been boycotting the company since October, when it sued Workers United, as she joined boycotters who believed Starbucks should offer more support to the people of Gaza.
“I understand on a corporate level why they wanted to mitigate that damage, but on the humanity level, it's horrible,” she told AP. “I personally try to consume and do things in a way that I’m not disregarding other people’s pain when I’m purchasing something.”
Blake said she would rather see Starbucks take measures like calling for a ceasefire or sending aid to the people of Gaza. She also thinks the company should drop its lawsuit.
“Everyone stands for humanity. What does that mean for you?” she said.