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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Boycott Starbucks for workers, not Palestine

The+Rhatigan+Student+Center+Starbucks+on+June+15%2C+2022.
Mia Hennen
The Rhatigan Student Center Starbucks on June 15, 2022.

Think of a restaurant chain that sells coffee and materially supports the Israeli government. They are listed on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) list, have stores operating in Israel and local franchises that have sent meals to the Israel Defense Forces.

If you’re thinking of Starbucks, you’d be wrong. The company has no stores currently in operation in Israel and are not identified on a BDS list. Moreover, neither Starbucks nor owner Howard Schultz have any known ties to the Israeli government or defense forces.

The company in question is McDonald’s. Yet, despite McDonald’s operating stores in Israel, it’s Starbucks who has received the majority of backlash for perceived support of Israel during its brutal bombing campaign that has already killed over 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

The controversy surrounding Starbucks can be tied back to Starbucks Workers United, a union that represents around 9,000 employees of the coffee giant. On Oct. 7, the day of a Hamas attack on Israel that killed more than a thousand people, the union posted “Solidarity with Palestine” on their X social media account, alongside an image of a Hamas-operated bulldozer tearing down a fence in Gaza.

In an Oct. 11 statement, Starbucks attempted to distance themselves from the union, saying, “We unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members.”

The coffee chain sued the union, not for expressing pro-Palestine views, but for copyright infringement — the union was using the Starbucks name and a logo reminiscent of the company.

Only time will tell where the legal battle will go from this point. However, it should be clear that Starbucks’ actions are a far cry from funding genocide, contrary to what the numerous examples of graffitied stores with messages such as “blood on your hands,” “you make drinks 4 genocide” and “this company supports genocide” might suggest.

To be clear, there are many valid reasons to support a boycott of Starbucks. The company has repeatedly been accused of violating the National Labor Relations Act and have a robust history of firing workers who lead unionization efforts, union busting with coercive measures and broadly mistreating workers through unfair schedules and poor pay. 

The boycott over Palestine distracts from Starbucks’ true crimes and is counterproductive from a strategic perspective. If the goal of a boycott is to force a company to change its policies through financial pressure, a boycott attempting to change a policy that never existed cannot succeed.

Starbucks cannot make changes to “stop supporting genocide.” They never were to begin with. There is no quid-pro-quo.

Make no mistake, the boycott movement is failing. While Starbucks’ stock value has dropped somewhat, it’s hard to tell whether the stagnation is due to the boycott or rising prices. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the company that actually materially supports Israel, is seeing record highs in the stock market.

It is deeply concerning that online activists have taken to the streets to protest and vandalize based on accusations they never bothered to do the bare minimum amount of research to verify. Beyond that, the Starbucks boycott is harmful to the overall pro-Palestinian movement.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from the BDS website. They say, when listing the recommended boycott targets, “We must strategically focus on a relatively smaller number of carefully selected companies and products for maximum impact. We need to target companies that play a clear and direct role in Israel’s crimes and where there is real potential for winning.

“Many of the prohibitively long lists going viral on social media do the exact opposite of this strategic and impactful approach. They include hundreds of companies, many without credible evidence of their connection to Israel’s regime of oppression against Palestinians. Many do not have clear demands to the companies as to what we expect them to do to end the boycott, making them ineffective.”

If you want to boycott for Palestine, boycott companies whose financial pain will actually make a difference for the Palestinian people. If you’re going to boycott Starbucks, do so with clear demands on behalf of the workers they are mistreating, not the Palestinians they are not.

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About the Contributors
Jacob Unruh, Assistant Sports Editor
Jacob Unruh is the assistant sports editor for The Sunflower. He is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. This is Unruh's first year on staff. He goes by he/him pronouns.
Makenzie Miller, Illustrator/Designer
Makenzie Miller is an animation major and a first-year illustrator on The Sunflower. She is from Eureka, Kansas, and enjoys not only art but also cartoons, video games, softball, and literally any type of animal. She hopes to one day be a storyboarder/concept artist for an animation company.
Mia Hennen, Editor in Chief
Mia Hennen is the current editor in chief for The Sunflower. Before becoming editor, Hennen was the news/managing editor. They are a junior at Wichita State majoring in English and minoring in communications and Spanish, hoping to pursue any career involving writing or editing.

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