Starbucks could be the latest target of an international boycott if the rumors are true that the coffee company will acquire a stake in the do-it-yourself beverage company SodaStream.
The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee released a statement Tuesday saying that if Starbucks acquires Sodastream, the company “would be deemed complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and would, therefore, face the prospects of popular boycotts and the possibility of legal action.”
The statement comes in response to reports last week from the Israeli business newspaper Globes that Starbucks is looking to buy a 10 percent stake in SodaStream International Ltd., after Sodastream’s stock jumped by nearly 14 percent last Wednesday.
When reached for comment, Starbucks told VICE News that they "don't comment on rumors or speculation."
A main SodaStream factory is located in Ma’ale Adumim, one of the biggest settlements in the West Bank, and is built largely on what is considered Palestinian land. BDS activists have long called for a boycott of SodaStream, because the company manufactures its home carbonation product in the settlement in the occupied West Bank that is considered illegal by much of the international community.
The BDS National Committee's statement cites the “more than 200 Palestinian families that were expelled from their homes to make way for the construction of Maale Adumim,” and Israel’s plans to displace another 2,300 Palestinians in order to further expand the settlement in which Sodastream operates.
“If Starbucks partners with SodaStream, it will face an unprecedented boycott campaign against it in the Arab world, the US, and in many countries where majorities support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equal rights,” Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, told VICE News.
BDS began in 2005 as an alliance between more than 170 Palestinian groups, said Barghouti, and is now led by the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, the BDS National Committee. BDS’ stated goal is to impose targeted economic, academic, and cultural boycotts on Israel “until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law.” Previous BDS campaigns have targeted companies such as Caterpillar tractors, Hewlett-Packard and Ben and Jerry’s.
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Rumors that Starbucks gives financial support to Israel started to swirl after a fake letter was published in 2006 claiming that Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz donates vast amounts of money to the Israeli military. Although Shultz is a vocal supporter of Israel, the letter was quickly debunked as a spoof. Starbucks also vehemently denied these claims on its website, stating that “Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false.”
Barghouti pointed out that BDS guidelines stipulate that a company must play a direct and complicit role in Israel’s policies in order to become a legitimate target for a boycott, which Starbucks has yet to do.
“The fact that a company’s CEO, not the company itself, is complicit is insufficient to justify a BDS campaign,” said Barghouti. But this would change for Starbucks if the company decided to partner with SodaStream.
Starbucks has not had any stores in Israel since 2003, but operates throughout the Middle East in countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Although Starbucks is a giant multi-national corporation, Barghouti believes that the company will feel the impact of a boycott.
“Starbucks is particularly vulnerable to BDS as it sells consumer products that have ample competition, and it is particularly large in the Arab world, where BDS has boundless potential,” said Barghouti. “Support for BDS is also growing in the US, especially in the younger generation, and that is Starbucks’ largest market by far.”
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