Muslim Groups are Boycotting Starbucks Over Its Stand for LGBT Rights

Islamic organizations in Indonesia and Malaysia are calling for a boycott the US coffee company after reading about its support for same-sex marriage in an article published in 2013.

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03 July 2017, 7:09pm

Photo by katieslusarski/ Flickr CC License

Conservative Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia were calling for the boycott of Starbucks over the weekend after someone discovered a four-year-old quote from the US coffee chain's then chief executive Howard Schultz defending the company's decision to support same-sex marriage in the United States.

"It is very clear that Starbucks supports this vile deed that is very contrary to Islam," Yunahar Ilyas, the deputy chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), told local media. "It's even a type of a human rights violation as it will allow for human extinction to occur."

Yunahar was jumping on the #boikotstarbucks train started by Anwar Abbas, a leader of Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah who first called for the boycott. Someone apparently forwarded a Forbes article from 2013 to one of Anwar's WhatsApp groups, alerting the Islamic leader of Starbucks' four-year-old stance on same-sex marriage.

The article in question featured an exchange between Schultz and an anti-LGBT rights shareholder over a drop in profits following a similar boycott of the company by anti gay marriage advocates. The shareholder pointed out that returns were "a bit disappointing" following Starbucks' vocal support of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

"It is not an economic decision to me," Schultz said at the time. "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."

Today, same-sex marriage is legal nationwide in the US and the whole controversy is something of a non-issue. When the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, more than half of Americans supported the decision. And that support is still growing today.

But in Indonesia, things are moving in the opposite direction. A national panic over the alleged threat the LGBT community posed to Indonesian culture is partially to blame for a series of high-profile raids targeting gay saunas and hotel parties.

In Aceh, authorities caned two men caught having sex—a first for the conservative Sharia province. And in West Java, local police announced plans to launch an anti-LGBT task force to stamp out any "illicit" behavior in the province.

It's become enough of an issue here that a comment by a Starbucks exec supporting LGBT rights can trigger calls for a boycott. Even if those comments are four-years-old.

"It's time for the people of Indonesia to consider steps to boycott products from Starbucks if their attitudes and outlook remain unchanged," Anwar told local media. "We don't want to accept a global company that is damaging our identity as a religious and cultured nation."

The #boikotstarbucks hashtag then spread to neighboring Malaysia, where a Malay rights group urged the central government to review the business licenses of companies which support LGBT rights abroad. The group, Perkasa, added Microsoft to the list of "pro-LGBT" companies that the Malaysian government should investigate.

"Perkasa urges Muslims in this country to boycott Starbucks because this United States-based international coffee chain supports LGBT and same-sex marriage," said Amini Amir Abdullah, the group's Islamic affairs bureau chief, in a statement.

Starbucks, for its part, was relatively unfazed by the calls for boycott. The coffee company has faced similar boycotts before—the last time in 2014 for it's support of Israel.

One blogger dismissed the entire thing as a flash in the pan, arguing that Malaysians would invariably move on to other topics in matter of days.

"I'm not too worried that Perkasa's call for boycott in Malaysia would amount to much," Zan Azlee wrote for Asian Correspondent. "It may spark something for a few days but trust me, it's not going to go on for long. History has already proven this: Malaysians need their Western fixes."

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