The ubiquitous coffee chain, Starbucks, may be doing well fiscally, but its reputation is falling apart at the seams. The group has been forced to weather one storm after another as it tries to be a global brand as well as a Social Justice champion, and it’s at this juncture that problems have arisen. A series of high-profile stories have all but trashed what was once a decent reputation, and the company has no one to blame but itself.
The troubles began back when former CEO Howard Schultz announced at a shareholder meeting that not all decisions about the company’s future were based on economic ideas. And while it is laudable to be an industry that has “a moral compass,” investors were less than pleased that Starbucks was willing to make financial sacrifices for the sake of ideology.
It was, of course, all for show. Starbucks thought that by pandering to the left, they would be able to position themselves as the “company for diversity” in the Western market. However, their overseas operations outed them as the opposite.
A Starbucks in Riyadh posted a sign in 2016 asking that women wanting to buy coffee send in a man to do it for them. There followed a brief Twitter storm, and then they released a statement explaining that due to refurbishments, they didn’t have a “gender wall” available.
Starbucks welcomes all customers, including women and families, to enjoy the Starbucks experience. We have worked with local authorities to obtain approval to refurbish one of our stores in Jarir, which was originally built without a gender wall. That meant it could only accommodate men in accordance with local law.
This was the only such Starbucks store in Saudi Arabia. During construction, the store could only accommodate and serve single men, and a poster was placed at the store entrance as required by local law.
So, they finished construction of the “gender wall” and were promptly forgiven by the left. Many conservatives however were not satisfied that the company, as a policy, provides segregated areas. If a company segregates, this is hardly a “commitment to diversity”; it shows that they are more interested in profits (by having more than 70 locations in Saudi Arabia) than in standing up for equal rights. Apparently, diversity doesn’t count outside the U.S.
Then came the decision to announce, “plans to hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years in the 75 countries where it does business.” Which again, whilst being a reasonable and pleasant goal, was in direct response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order calling for an immigration halt from some majority Muslim nations. Starbucks did not announce this plan until after President Trump had announced his. This was a direct “anti-Trump” response that has set them politically against half of the U.S. population. It is not as though any reasonable person doesn’t want refugees to get employment, but to form a policy as what many see as a “direct attack” on the president is somewhat foolhardy.
Next in line was the BBC Watchdog investigation that found “faecal (fecal) coliforms” in 30% of tests at Starbucks branches. The bacteria were also found on tables trays and, worst of all, high chairs.
Tony Lewis, the head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said the levels found were “concerning.” He said the types of bacteria identified are “the source of human disease,” adding: “These should not be present at any level — never mind the significant numbers found.”
The response from the company was less than inspiring; it pledged to carry out its own investigation into the contamination.
Starbucks has sacrificed itself on the altar of PC; it is not a company, it is a cause. Recent boycotts have seen its profits take a hit, and the reputation that has been built up over years may never fully recover. It’s time for them to get back to providing a service: excellent coffee at reasonable prices. If they can’t manage that, perhaps they should look for a new line of business.