To boycott or not to boycott Starbucks?

by AudréeML on February 8, 2016 - 1:56pm

 

            As some of you might have heard, a Starbucks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia temporarily banished women from entering the store. A sign put on the door said: “Please no entry for ladies only send your driver to order thank you.” This has been a shock for the majority of the world and women from all around are protesting and talking about boycotting Starbucks by solidarity.

            First of all, I have to say this: I work for Starbucks. I have been working there for more than a year and honestly love working there. Starbucks is known for being a company who cares; they care for their employees, for their clients, but also for what happens around the world. I have been to many humanitarian events organized by Starbucks and until this happened in Saudi Arabia, I could say I was proud to work for Starbucks. Them refusing women to enter the coffee and asking to send men instead made my colleagues and myself question the reasons why our company would do such a thing.

            But was there a justifiable reason for Starbucks to do such a thing? Actually, it was for a cultural reason. Women segregation is a well known thing all around Saudi Arabia. Women require male permission to work, travel, study, marry or even access health care. They also are banned from driving or having a bank account and have to have a male chaperone when they want to go shopping. The store did not choose to ban women; the country’s religious police did. Indeed, the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered the Starbucks Coffee to ban women because a “segregation wall” in the middle of the shop had become illegal, not separating the two parts in an efficient enough way.

            Starbucks is saying that they want their services to be available to anyone anywhere, but always according to the local customs. They are affirming that they are working as fast as they can to make sure the wall will be built as fast as possible so that women can start going back to order their own coffee. According to the laws in Saudi Arabia, there needs to be two different entrances; one for men and one for families and women.  Women in Saudi Arabia are in majority feeling safer in a coffee with a separation wall than in the places where the men and the women are not separated.

            This leaves me with a question; why do people find this so revolting, but never say anything about the everyday life of these women? Why is this worth maybe boycotting Starbucks as a woman, but the fact that women in Saudi Arabia can not go out of the house without a man chaperoning them does not make the world move a single muscle? I think it is awful that women have been banned temporarily from that Starbucks, but isn’t it more important to fight for bigger causes like the freedom of these women?

 

Bibliography

Hanks, Henry. “Women temporarily banned from a Saudi Starbucks.” CNN. Np. 7 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

Matharu, Hardeep. “Saudi Arabian women banned from Starbucks after collapse of gender segregation wall.” The Independent. Np. 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

Arabnews.com. “Ban on women’s entry temporary: Starbucks.” Arab News. Np. 7 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. 

Comments

Hi Audrée,
I wanted to say that you are addressing an important point and issue. It is indeed troublesome that women in Saudi Arabia are still under such a male-female gap and that they have repressed rights. For my part I know that we cannot do much to change a country as a whole or their way of thinking, however I believe that Starbucks tried to do the best thing they could out of the situation.
Personally, I went multiple times to Starbucks. I know that they take good care of the customers, that they are polite and that they usually try to get something original in their menus. They are also very good at what they are doing. I cannot remember a single time when I was not well treated nor a time when I had to complain. As of the situation that you described in Saudi Arabia, I believe that they tried doing their best to satisfy the maximum amount of people. As you stated, Starbucks is building a wall within the cafe so that their women customers can get back to buy their products as before. Of course some inconveniences may happen, in this case they were necessary, but in the end, Starbucks wishes for most of their customers to be happy.
I would lastly add that I totally agree with you on the fact that women rights are not respected and that is indeed an issue that people have to fight for and put their efforts in so that the world becomes just.

This is a really good text. It is interesting because you give your own perspective about how you feel about a company you know well! I do think it is good that Starbucks follows the country's culture but what about the efforts the women do to change how things are done. For example, in the article "Saudi Arabia Orders Women Segregated From Men in Council Meetings" (http://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-orders-women-segregated-from-me...) , it explains that women that are part of the council will be able to be heard from their colleges through video, but not seen. It is good that women can participate in politics, but the same room ban is still challenge present for women, as shown in your review. If big companies as Starbucks start to change how they behave, maybe it can have a positive impact for the right of women in countries like this one. Having lived in a country where women have almost all the same rights as men all my life, I think that everyone should have the right to go shopping alone or to be in the same place as the other gender. I believe that if everyone tries to make a difference, it is possible to help the women in these countries who try to be more responsible of their destiny by having more rights.

I like how you use your position as a Starbucks employee to bring out this issue in Saudi Arabia. However, you concentrate to much on one single country while ignoring the same issue in your own. Of course, there is a big difference from women segregation in Saudi Arabia from women segregation in Canada, but this problem is still present. While in Saudi Arabia this segregation is clearly visible , in North America it is more subtle. I am going to take Starbucks as an example to show my point even further. Statistics show that Starbucks maximum hourly rate for men is a cent higher than the one for women(http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=Starbucks_Corporation/Hourl... ). You could think that this cent does not mean anything and that it is too little to worry about, but there is no reason why a man would receive more than a woman for the same job. This gender wage gap exists in almost every job in Canada: for each dollar a man earns a woman earns 87 cents(http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-the-gender-wage-gap-in-canada). This is still far from the segregation in Saudi Arabia where even finding a job is difficult for a woman, but it still shows that Canada has is no way complete gender equality. The societies of Saudi Arabia and Canada are both historically based on hegemonic masculinity which puts men in a dominant position over women, the only difference between them is the presence of this concept and of how this concept is applied. I just wanted to point this out, so while we fight for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia we do not forget to do the same in our own country.

As a company, Starbucks must stay impartial in the situation. Even though, Starbucks might not agree with the politics in Saudi Arabia. They want financial success in this country. Money rules the world and it can also buys silence. The rights of women are a real issue in this country. This situation questions what should be the place of companies in the world? Should they speak about their opinions and intervene on conflicting subjects?