Did Starbucks Lose $12B from Boycotts ‘Due to Its Support for Israel’?

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On Dec. 6, 2023, a user on X named @ThePopTingz posted (archived), “Starbucks has lost $12 billion from boycotts worldwide due to its support for Israel.”

The post contained three intertwined claims: that Starbucks suffered $12 billion in losses, that the losses were due to customer boycotts and that Starbucks had expressed explicit support for Israel in the ongoing war in Gaza.

We reached out to a spokesperson for Starbucks to ask about the post. In response, the company provided a link to reporting from Bloomberg. We also contacted the Starbucks Workers United union to ask about this rumor for reasons mentioned below. We will update this story if we receive a response.

In our research, we found that this story went back to early October 2023, if not long before that.

First, yes, there was some truth to the post’s claim about Starbucks losing $12 billion. The $12 billion loss occurred in a recent slump in the company’s stock market value. We also concluded that there was a lack of substantial evidence that would be able to definitively confirm whether or not the boycotts organized on social media had caused the stock slump. Further, while we have yet to locate any evidence that would indicate Starbucks (the company) had announced its specific support for Israel, we did find some information that claimed its former chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz, who was listed on the company’s website as chairman emeritus and no longer sat on its board of directors, had purportedly communicated with and assisted a Jewish group that later published an article with a list of unionized stores. The article also repeatedly claimed that all of the thousands of employees associated with the unionized stores supported Hamas.

Below, we’ve provided clarifying data on these points, all in chronological order.

Oct. 9: Union Post Expresses ‘Solidarity with Palestine!’

Two days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that led to the ongoing war in the region, a person in control of the X account for the Starbucks Workers United union – a union made up of a small percentage of Starbucks employees, and one that Starbucks (the company) has no management over – reposted another post and added its own caption that read, “Solidarity with Palestine!”

The repost in question. (Source: Starbucks Corporation court filing)

According to CNN, the post that the union account reposted showed “an image of a bulldozer operated by Hamas tearing down a fence on the Gaza strip during the attacks against Israel.”

As we previously reported, the post was removed and did not specifically mention Hamas by name. Also, Workers United President Lynne Fox later said in an op-ed that one person wrote the post, and that it was “not authorized by the union or its workers” and was “quickly deleted.”

The Starbucks Workers United union website says that around 370 stores have been unionized with more than 9,000 total workers. By comparison, as of 2023, Starbucks had nearly 10,000 company-owned stores in the U.S., according to Reuters. Previously, the company also published that it served an additional roughly 6,500 licensed locations.

Oct. 11: Company Distances Itself from Union’s Post

On Oct. 11, in a statement published on the Starbucks website, the company expressed sympathy for “the innocent in Israel and Gaza.” The company did not say that it specifically supported Israel in terms of its government or military.

The statement was posted after Hamas’ attack in Israel days earlier, as well as the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in the days that followed. It read, in part (the bolded section below was bolded on Starbucks’ website):

Starbucks wants to again express our deepest sympathy for those who have been killed, wounded, displaced and impacted following the heinous and unacceptable acts of terror, escalating violence and hate against the innocent in Israel and Gaza this week. Furthermore, we are deeply troubled by the spread of misinformation, inaccurate headlines and third-party social media posts stemming from statements made by Workers United.

To be clear: We unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members. Workers United’s words and actions belong to them, and them alone.

Workers United, its local affiliates, union organizers and those who identify as members of “Starbucks Workers United” do not speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent the company’s views, positions or beliefs.

Oct. 13: Call for Boycotts on Social Media

On Oct. 13, CNN.com reported, “The union’s account has since deleted the tweet, but not before it sparked some calls for a boycott of Starbucks on social media.”

Similarly, ABC News reported more than one week later, “The message from the union triggered calls to boycott Starbucks, when some appeared to mistake the union’s position for that of the company.”

Oct. 17: Starbucks Says Union Post Caused ‘Confusion’

In a statement that was posted to Starbucks’ website on or just before Oct. 17, the company said that the union’s X post about “solidarity with Palestine” led to “confusion.” The statement read, in part (the bolded section below was bolded on Starbucks’ website):

Unfortunately, as violence against the innocent in the region continues to escalate, some people are mistakenly tying these remarks to us…

[…]

The ongoing confusion from this misinformation has sadly led directly to incidents where angry, hurt customers are confronting partners in our stores and sending graphic and violent messages to partners in our Customer Contact Center (CCC).

The statement also said that the company intended to sue the union for its usage of the company’s “name, logo and intellectual property,” and for the fact that the union had not issued a “correction” regarding its repost.

Oct. 18: Starbucks and Union Sue Each Other

On Oct. 18, Starbucks sued the Starbucks Workers United union, saying that the “solidarity with Palestine” post had angered customers and damaged its reputation, The Associated Press reported. The lawsuit also went after the union’s usage of its name and a similar logo.

In response, the union filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, saying that the company had implied that its members support terrorism and violence. The union also said that other unions commonly use the names of the companies of the employees being represented.

Oct. 20: Op-ed from Workers United President

In response to the claims by Starbucks, Fox wrote in the aforementioned op-ed, “Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to bolster the company’s anti-union campaign.” Fox also provided details about some of her own family members who had either died in or survived Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

In the op-ed, she included the following story regarding what she saw as Starbucks placing its own employees on a “hit list”:

Never mind the facts. Starbucks saw an opportunity to capitalize on the horrific and tragic events in the Middle East to further its unprecedented, illegal union busting campaign, trying to bully workers into abandoning their union name and logo via a cease and desist letter and federal lawsuit.

Those attacks reached a new level on Thursday, October 19 when the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) posted on its website that it had spoken with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and worked with him and the Starbucks’ corporate team to identify unionized Starbucks stores that the OJC’s members could boycott. The OJC proceeded to post a list of those unionized stores — provided by Starbucks — online, suggesting, without any evidence, that the employees at those stores “support Hamas.”

I’m the president of a union of young workers who are now terrified that they’ve been placed on a hit list by their employer.

Our search of the website for the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJCC) found that it was true the group had published an article that included a list of what they said were all of the unionized stores. (A Google search for the mailing addresses of all unionized Starbucks stores found that the same list was also publicly available on other websites.)

The author of the OJCC’s article claimed that they had communicated with the “Starbucks corporate team” and former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz. The story also said that Schultz “reiterated his identity as a supporter of Israel.” Further, the OJCC article repeatedly claimed that all of the thousands of employees at the unionized stores “support Hamas.”

By email, a spokesperson for Starbucks told us that no Starbucks official had provided a list of stores to the OJCC, nor did Starbucks initiate, support or encourage a boycott of its own stores.

Since Schultz was no longer part of Starbucks’ management team and had stepped down from its board of directors, we reached out to him separately via his Schultz Family Foundation website. We will update this story if we receive further details.

Note: On the subject of Schultz, the company previously published an FAQ that said that Starbucks and Schultz have never provided financial support to the Israeli government or its military.

Early November: Starbucks Stock Rallies

Following the publicized boycotts of Starbucks in October, on Nov. 2, Starbucks reported financial results for the most recent quarter and the full fiscal year. The numbers were positive. In response to the good news, the company’s stock rallied during the entire first half of November, Bloomberg reported. (This was the same article sent to Snopes by the spokesperson for Starbucks.)

Nov. 16: Red Cup Day Strike

On Nov. 16, The Associated Press reported that more than 5,000 U.S. workers at over 200 Starbucks stores (out of nearly 17,000 stores) went on strike during the company’s annual Red Cup Day – a special day when customers can obtain a reusable red cup. The union dubbed the day, “Red Cup Rebellion 2023.” The reporting also said that around 30 additional stores staged walkouts.

Dec. 1: Boycott Metrics

On Dec. 1, NBCNews.com published the following relevant data that shed light on the scale of the social media campaign that sought to launch “targeted boycotts” on Starbucks and other big-name establishments:

Data made public by TikTok shows that the use of the hashtag “#boycottstarbucks” peaked in early November but remains elevated. It has been used on 7,000 TikTok videos in the United States during the past 30 days, with a combined 51 million views.

[…]

There are also many videos about the boycotts that don’t use the hashtags.

The reporting noted that “there’s little evidence to show that the boycotts will have a meaningful impact,” citing the most recent financial figures for the company that showed sales growth.

Dec. 4: $12 Billion Loss in Market Value

On Dec. 4, Bloomberg reported that Starbucks had lost nearly $12 billion in its Nasdaq stock market value over the previous two weeks:

The stock dropped 1.6% on Monday, declining for a 11th consecutive session in what is the longest rout since Starbucks’ public debut in 1992. In total, the slump has erased 9.4% of Starbucks’ market value, a decline of nearly $12 billion.

According to the reporting, an analyst for JPMorgan Chase & Co., John Ivankoe, “lowered his first-quarter U.S. comparable sales estimate to 4 percent growth compared with the year ago period, to reflect what may be a less successful Christmas holiday promotion than the fall Pumpkin Spice Latte event,” after he had previous been “expecting a 6 percent jump in quarterly domestic same-store sales.”

In other words, despite the stock slump, Ivankoe was still projecting growth in the company’s first fiscal quarter for the year 2024, a period that occurs on the calendar between October and December 2023.

The story also provided additional data on “decelerating” trends in the entire snack and coffee industry and made brief mention of the reported boycotts and the union’s Red Cup Day strike:

Sales trends in the snack and coffee industry have decelerated on a week-over-week basis for the seven-day period through Nov. 19, according to data-driven research firm M Science. The sales slowdown was driven by softer trends at Starbucks, analyst Matthew Goodman wrote in a note on Dec. 1. This marks the third straight week of decelerating trends amid boycotts and recent labor strikes, including on Red Cup Day (Nov. 16), which affected as many as 200 locations in the U.S.

In sum, it’s entirely possible that boycotts organized on social media and strikes on Red Cup Day had impacted some of the company’s market value and caused part of the nearly $12 billion dip in late November and early December. However, without further data, we are unable to definitively confirm the connection.

For example, we asked @ThePopTingz, the user who originally posted the rumor in question, for evidence to support the post that made these claims. In response, a user managing the account quickly sent over two links to news articles on Newsweek and MarketWatch.com. While these articles contained information that said Starbucks’ market value had dropped, the stories did not provide sufficient data to conclude that the boycotts had, indeed, been the primary factor that caused the slump. Upon asking the user again for relevant data, we did not receive another response.

Sources

“AP PHOTOS: Israel Hits Gaza with Airstrikes after Attacks by Militants.” The Associated Press, 9 Oct. 2023, apnews.com/article/ap-photos-gaza-israel-palestinians-border-attack-3cbc2d728cf9fbebf32a2a11968ca182.

Durbin, Dee-Ann. “Starbucks, Workers United Union Sue Each Other in Standoff over pro-Palestinian Social Media Post.” The Associated Press, 18 Oct. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/starbucks-workers-united-union-lawsuit-israel-palestinian-f212a994fef67f122854a4df7e5d13f5.

—. “Thousands of Starbucks Workers Go on a One-Day Strike on One of the Chain’s Busiest Days of Year.” The Associated Press, 16 Nov. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/starbucks-strike-red-cup-day-7c07617260ea1c4760410e29b4509b6b.

Fox, Lynne. “Starbucks Is Exploiting the Violence in Gaza and Israel to Attack Its Union.” In These Times, 20 Oct. 2023, https://inthesetimes.com/article/starbucks-israel-gaza-lynne-fox-palestine.

Freund, Janet, and Katrina Compoli. “Starbucks Suffers Record 11-Day Rout as Sales Concerns Build.” Yahoo Finance via Bloomberg, 4 Dec. 2023, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/starbucks-heads-record-losing-streak-172459953.html.

Meyersohn, Nathaniel, and Danielle Wiener-Bronner. “Starbucks Disagrees with Union over Its ‘solidarity with Palestine’ Post | CNN Business.” CNN, 13 Oct. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/13/business/starbucks-israel-palestine-workers/index.html.

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Ignacio

Ignacio Pereti es un reconocido periodista y escritor en proceso de aprendizaje continuo.