Starbucks CEO Takes On Chain’s Social Media Controversy Over Israel-Hamas War

“We see protestors influenced by misrepresentation on social media of what we stand for,” CEO Laxman Narasimhan said in a letter.

Heather Haddon (with inputs from The Wall Street Journal)
First Published20 Dec 2023, 01:31 PM IST
FILE PHOTO: The logo of a Starbucks coffee shop is seen in New York June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid//File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The logo of a Starbucks coffee shop is seen in New York June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid//File Photo(REUTERS)

The Starbucks chief executive said protesters vandalizing its stores over the Israel-Hamas war have the wrong impression of the company and its beliefs.

In an annual company letter to workers, Laxman Narasimhan addressed controversies surrounding the coffee chain since the war broke out in October. The letter seeks to remove the company from the controversy caused in part by comments seen as pro-Palestinian by the workers’ union.

“Many of our stores have experienced incidents of vandalism. We see protestors influenced by misrepresentation on social media of what we stand for. We have worked with local authorities to ensure our partners and customers are safe,” Narasimhan said in the letter.

The reverberations of the Israel-Hamas conflict continue to play out in many Americans’ lives, and present a tricky issue for companies to navigate. Many company leaders are refraining from public stances on the conflict given the complex history between Israel and the Palestinians, and a fear that a misstatement could cause offense.

After the war broke out in early October, Starbucks Workers United and local affiliates of the union organizing some of the chain’s U.S. stores expressed support for Palestinians in social-media posts online. The posts, many now deleted, prompted calls from some Jewish leaders to boycott Starbucks as a whole.

Starbucks has since sought to clarify its own position, saying it disagrees with the views expressed by Workers United and that it condemns acts of terrorism and violence. It also sued the union in October, alleging trademark infringement and demanding the union stop using its name and logos. The association with the union was damaging its reputation and putting its workers in harm’s way, Starbucks said.

Starbucks shares have fallen over 6% in the past month.

Starbucks Workers United countersued, saying the company had defamed the union in its response. Starbucks Workers United represented around 370 of Starbucks’s 9,650 stores as of earlier this month.

Narasimhan, the company’s CEO since March, said Tuesday that he is concerned about the state of the world and conflicts embroiling it. “It has unleashed violence against the innocent, hate and weaponized speech, and lies—all of which we condemn,” Narasimhan said.

The company’s goal next year is to improve the company’s culture for its workers. “We do a lot, but we are not perfect,” he said.

Write to Heather Haddon at heather.haddon@wsj.com

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First Published:20 Dec 2023, 01:31 PM IST
HomeCompaniesNewsStarbucks CEO Takes On Chain’s Social Media Controversy Over Israel-Hamas War

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