Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was confronted by a shareholder over the company’s support for same-sex marriage. See Example( s )
Collected via e-mail, March 2013
Howard Schultz affirmed the company’s support for same-sex marriage at a shareholder meeting.
Howard Schultz did not say opponents of same-sex marriage were not allowed to be Starbucks stockholders or were not desired as Starbucks customers.
Starbucks, the ubiquitous behemoth of a coffee chain, was one of several prominent Washington-area companies (including Microsoft, Nike, and Amazon) who in early 2012 supported a state measure to legalize same-sex marriage, stating that:
Starbucks is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. Starbucks strives to create a company culture that puts our partners first, and our company has a lengthy history of leading and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion.
This important legislation is aligned with Starbucks business practices and upholds our belief in the equal treatment of partners. It is core to who we are and what we value as a company. We are proud of our Pride Alliance Partner Network group, which is one of the largest Employer Resource Groups for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees in the U.S., helping to raise awareness about issues in the communities where
we live and work.
For the last 20 years, our benefits program has offered domestic partner benefits in the U.S. These benefits include medical, dental, vision, prescription drugs and alternative health care coverage. All partners (part-time and full-time) in all work locations, whether in a store, a roasting plant or a corporate office, adhere to the same eligibility requirements for health coverage and have access to the same comprehensive health plans.
We are deeply dedicated to embracing diversity and treating one another with respect and dignity, and remain committed to providing an inclusive, supportive and safe work environment for all of our partners.
We look forward to seeing this legislation enacted into law.
That support led the company to becoming the target of “Dump Starbucks” boycotts instituted by anti-gay marriage groups such as the National Organization for Marriage.
At a Starbucks shareholders meeting in March 2013, shareholder Tom Strobhar (founder of The Corporate Morality Action Center, an organization which also opposes same-sex marriage) challenged Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz over the company’s financial performance, which Strobhar suggested had been harmed by Starbucks’ corporate support of same-sex marriage and the subsequent boycotts, saying: “In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings — shall we say politely — were a bit disappointing.”
Schultz responded (and drew two rounds of applause from attendees) by asserting that Starbucks stock had performed well over the past year, affirming the company’s support of same-sex marriage, and stating that not all corporate decisions were based purely on economics:
Not every decision is an economic decision. Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.
If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.
Howard Schultz did not, however, say anything that could reasonably be construed as “If you support traditional marriage, we don’t want your business” or “you can’t buy shares in [this] company.” Schultz told a disaffected stockholder that if he thought the company’s social policies were hurting its financial performance and he could get a better return for his money elsewhere, he was free to sell his Starbucks stock and invest in a different company. He did not say that supporters of traditional marriage were neither allowed nor desired as stockholders and customers of Starbucks.
A video of Schultz’s response can be viewed here.