Starbucks CEO wants people to stop protesting at its stores over Israel-Hamas war

ByNathaniel Meyersohn, CNN
Thursday, December 21, 2023
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Starbucks chief executive Laxman Narasimhan on Tuesday said people protesting the company and disrupting its stores over the Israel-Hamas war were being misled by false information spread online about the company's positions.

"We see protestors influenced by misrepresentation on social media of what we stand for," Narasimhan said in a letter to Starbucks employees and customers.

"Cities around the world - including here in North America - have seen escalating protests. Many of our stores have experienced incidents of vandalism," he said. "We have worked with local authorities to ensure our partners and customers are safe."

The letter is a way of attempting to untangle Starbucks from controversies related to the war. Starbucks has also tried to distance itself from pro-Palestine positions taken by Starbucks Workers United, a union for Starbucks workers, that have angered some pro-Israel supporters.

At the same time, it is facing softer holiday sales, according to analyst estimates. Its stock suffered the longest drop in its history, a 12-day slide ending earlier this month. Starbucks is also fighting off union pressure over pay and working conditions and accusations of illegal anti-union tactics.

The coffee company said some of the protests related to the war in Gaza resulted directly from the union's comments.

More than 350 of the company's roughly 9,300 corporate-owned stores in the United States are unionized.

Shortly after Hamas' October 7 terrorist attacks against Israel, the union, Starbucks Workers United, posted "Solidarity with Palestine" on social media platform X. Below the image was an image of a bulldozer operated by Hamas tearing down a fence on the Gaza strip during the attacks against Israel, according to some news organizations that saw the post.

The tweet was not authorized by the union or its workers, and the union's account quickly deleted the tweet - but it sparked some calls for a boycott of Starbucks on social media by pro-Israel supporters.

Starbucks said some of the protests related to the war in Gaza resulted directly from the union's comments. More than 350 of the company's roughly 9,300 corporate-owned stores in the United States are unionized.

Starbucks distanced itself from the tweet.

"We unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members," Starbucks said in a post. "Workers United's words and actions belong to them, and them alone," the company added.

Starbucks also filed a lawsuit against the union, 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.

The union filed a counter lawsuit in October, claiming Starbucks falsely attacked the union's reputation.

"The company's statements are a transparent effort to bolster its illegal anti-union campaign by falsely attacking the union's reputation with workers and the public," the suit alleged.

The union endorsed a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace in October condemning Hamas' attacks on Israel and calling for "people of conscience to stop the imminent genocide of Palestinians."

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