The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) has issued a stern warning to US-based coffee-shop chain Starbucks that it could face a backlash if media reports that it is about to buy a stake in SodaStream are true.
Starbucks “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 BNC statement says.
SodaStream is an Israeli company that manufactures home drink-carbonation machines in Maaleh Adumim, an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, built on land from which Palestinians have been ethnically cleansed.
It has been looking for buyers amid a mounting global activist campaign against its occupation profiteering.
In February, its spokesmodel, Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson, broke ties with the international charity Oxfam which had criticized her endorsement of SodaStream as incompatible her role as the charity’s humanitarian ambassador.
The BNC statement warns that boycott, divestment and sanctions “campaign against Starbucks is expected to drastically affect its market share in the Arab world and many countries across the world.”
It notes that “Veolia, a French company involved in several illegal Israeli projects in the [occupied Palestinian territories], has lost or was compelled to withdraw from contracts worth billions of dollars in Sweden, the UK, Ireland, the US and elsewhere. Similarly, G4S, a British-Danish security conglomerate, lost lucrative contracts in Europe and South Africa.”
But isn’t Starbucks already a boycott target?
Starbucks would be a particularly vulnerable target to boycott actions not only because it does a lot of business in Arab countries and Europe, where solidarity for Palestinians is strong, but also because so many people believe that the company is already complicit in Israeli occupation.
For years, rumors have swirled that Starbucks donates part of its profits to Israel and its army. However, this is false. The rumor is based on a 2006 debunked spoof letter supposedly written by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
While Schultz himself is an avowed supporter of Israel in his personal capacity, Starbucks has carried a statement on its website for years disavowing any connection to Israel.
The statement says that “allegations that Starbucks provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way are unequivocally false. Unfortunately, these rumors persist despite our best efforts to refute them.”
Also, Starbucks has had no stores in Israel since 2003, when it withdrew from the country due to what it called “on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market.”
Starbucks operates across the Arab world. Through its partner, Kuwait-based Alshaya Group, it operates Starbucks stores in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
So while at present Starbucks as a company is not complicit in Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, if it buys a stake in SodaStream, many will feel that the already considerable suspicion the company faces was justified all along.