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College of DuPage's Student Newspaper

The Courier

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“Eva's World” Page 25
Title Art by ADHL
“Eva's World” Page 24
Title Art by ADHL
“Eva's World” Page 25
Title Art by ADHL
“Eva's World” Page 24

The Cost of a Cup: Why I Chose to Boycott Starbucks and You Should Too

Join the movement to boycott Starbucks’ for their prioritization of profit over principles and history of labor violations.
Starbucks+storefront%2C+located+in+Downtown+Elmhurst
Marley Hamil
Starbucks storefront, located in Downtown Elmhurst

For the last three months, I’ve participated in the global Starbucks boycott as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement and the Starbucks Workers’ Union. This movement isn’t just about abstaining from our daily coffee fix; it’s a collective effort to challenge a corporation that has a history of prioritizing profit over principles and treating its employees poorly. 

Calls to boycott Starbucks began following a legal dispute between the franchise and Starbucks Workers United, a union representing certain employees, over the union’s pro-Palestinian social media posts. Note, that Starbucks doesn’t officially recognize the organization as a union, as the company opposes unionization, which has created substantial challenges for Workers United in establishing legal representation and advocating on behalf of the rights of its workers. 

Claiming the social media posts angered customers and harmed Starbucks’s reputation, the corporation filed a litigation suit claiming trademark infringement, demanding the union cease using a logo and organization title that associates them with Starbucks. In retaliation, Workers United countersued, defending their logo and title, while accusing Starbucks of defamation. 

My motivation to boycott Starbucks is complicated. Contrary to common misconceptions and rumors, purchasing from Starbucks doesn’t mean supporting the Israeli military financially or publicly. Unlike corporations like McDonald’s, Starbucks isn’t on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) list, and it doesn’t contribute funds or endorse the Israeli military. Also, while I disagree with Starbucks’s legal action against their union, it didn’t shock or infuriate me. Any formidable American corporation would avoid affiliating its trademark with a controversial ‘political’ stance. Anyhow, the post was quickly removed by the union, and union leaders publicly clarified that it wasn’t authorized by management.

Nevertheless, the decision to boycott the franchise was not a difficult one for two main reasons. 

First, Starbucks has a history of violating their workers’ labor rights and union-busting. This legal dispute, coming after countless other legal suits from workers about their unfair and unlawful treatment by the corporation, was a stark reminder of this troubling history and a motivation to stop patronizing a chain with such a problematic track record.

Second, I believe that this conflict epitomizes the problem with the American market, populated by corporations prioritizing profit over morality. What Starbucks perceives as a political stance, I view it as a humanitarian one. The union didn’t explicitly criticize Israel or its military; rather, they expressed solidarity with Palestinian civilians enduring death, destruction and displacement. 

Why should I contribute my hard-earned money to a company more concerned with its bottom line than standing up for victims of genocide? 

Boycotting has become a way to stand in support of both the Palestinian Liberation Movement, and the union workers that Starbucks sought to silence, taking a stand against the morally bankrupt, spineless and detached companies that dominate America. Starbucks’ steadfast commitment to global ‘neutrality’ and constant suppression of employee voices has become as stale and hard to swallow as their pastries.

However, this sentiment is not universally shared. Those participating in the boycott represent a minority among consumers, and the movement has encountered criticism on various fronts, primarily due to perceptions of its ineffectiveness and minimal impact on Starbucks’ financial performance.

At the start of the boycott, for a previous article, I interviewed Noah McBrien, a Starbucks employee and COD student, about his opinion on the future of the boycott. At the time, he expressed skepticism about the potential effectiveness of a boycott, stating that controversies like these typically have “a short-lived impact,” and suggested that boycotts may affect an organization by giving it a negative reputation, leading to lower stock prices, but he doubted that the boycott itself would significantly impact Starbucks. 

This viewpoint was shared by the college students I interviewed who chose not to participate in the boycott. Why change their habits and inconvenience themselves if they won’t make a difference? 

But this mindset is exactly what corporations want you to have—a mindset that makes you feel powerless and cynically accepting of your limited ability to make a difference. If everyone thinks this way, unethical companies can continue to prioritize profits over doing what’s right for the environment, society, and ethical standards without facing any pushback. 

We cannot afford to think like that. There is no space for apathy in the pursuit of a better, fairer world. Each small action, every bit of compassion and protest you contribute to the world, makes a difference. 

Moreso, even though your actions as an individual consumer might seem small, they have the power to make a meaningful impact when joined with the efforts of a collective.

According to an article by msn.com, Starbucks reported a $10.98 billion loss in market value and a 7.4% stock drop and financial analysts have suggested that “boycotts, union strikes, staff walkouts, and a lackluster holiday promotion,” were all contributing factors to its financial downturn. I would be shocked if these financial losses hadn’t sparked internal conversations about the optics of all of the legal controversies they are currently entangled in with their workers. 

Did I miss ordering a Peppermint Mocha frappuccino this season and drinking a milkshake disguised as coffee that made each bleak winter day a bit brighter? Of course. But life is full of sacrifice and every small act of protest matters. Beyond the economic impact, boycotting Starbucks keeps conversations about worker’s rights and the power of protest in the minds of consumers and within the context of Starbucks’ brand reputation. It’s also a way of showing those affected that we recognize and care about their challenges and that we won’t support entities that contribute to them.

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  • NoahFeb 14, 2024 at 2:39 am

    Hey, Marley
    I enjoyed the article, especially the stale pastry simile. I share your perspective in not being apathetic toward causes concerning employee welfare, as well as the overall idea that corporations tend to hold no particular set of values aside from a motivation toward profit.
    But, I take issue with drawing a tie between the recent loss in market value, as a result of Starbucks share price dropping, being a result of the boycotts.
    According to a recent Vox article, citing a few equity and research analysts, gave the mundane explanation of underperforming due to lackluster performance on Red Cup Day, compared to 2022, as well as underselling seasonal and limited-time offers this quarter versus the last one.
    Basically, low consumer awareness regarding these deals is to blame.
    I believe there’s more to be done to hold corporations to higher standards. My comments in the first article were made with the hopes that those who wish to make such a change would find more effective ways of doing so.
    Collective action can work, but how well it works depends on a variety of other factors.
    Secondly, McDonald’s makes no direct, or indirect via a high-ranking company official, investment in Israel. There was news of McDonald’s franchises, or particular stores, in the Middle East feuding over the conflict. One in Israel was giving discounts to soldiers. In response to the discount, franchises in neighboring regions Pakistan and Kuwait, distanced themselves from the Israeli franchises and made their own financial contributions to aid the suffering civilians in Gaza.
    The company itself has not made contributions to either side. Would it be helpful to see a corporation donate to relief efforts in the war-torn region? Yes, I would like to see that. But the boycotts are not likely to move McDonald’s.

  • KathyFeb 7, 2024 at 5:58 pm

    100%! As a consumer in late-stage capitalism, I would rather rally behind an ethical company that supports its environment, employees, and ethical pursuits over corporate greed. There are amazing local coffee and tea shops that I would rather support with my money than Starbucks.