Starbucks Investors Demand Answers Amid Workers' Rights Controversies

The ongoing labor woes of the world's largest coffee chain appear to be far from over, as a coalition of Starbucks investors has called for an investigation into the company's labor practices (via Zippia). In a press release, the New York City Comptroller's office shared that a group of Starbucks Corp. investors has called for an independent, third-party assessment of the company's treatment of workers.

The shareholder proposal, which emphasized concern over workers' "collective bargaining rights," comes in response to a recent surge in unionization efforts by Starbucks workers from coast to coast. In the wake of the pandemic, which caused widespread labor shortages across the food service industry, workers for major corporations — like Amazon and Starbucks — have ramped up unionization efforts, calling for increased pay and better working conditions (via CNBC).

Leading the unionization efforts is Starbucks Workers United, a "pro-Starbucks and pro-union" organization aimed at giving workers "a voice in their workplace." Following the first successful unionization of a Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York, last December, employees at over 200 Starbucks locations across the country have since voted to unionize (via NPR).

In response to the unionization efforts, Starbucks has been accused of launching a sweeping union-busting campaign, using tactics like store shutdowns, one-on-one employee meetings, and even termination to dissuade workers from unionizing (via The Guardian). The company made headlines after seven Memphis workers were allegedly fired over union efforts, prompting a federal court judge to step in and reinstate their employment (via WREG).

Shareholders have questioned Starbucks' labor practices following union-busting efforts

Now, a coalition of the company's investors — led by the New York City Pension Funds, which owns 1.78 million shares of Starbucks — has voiced "growing concern that the company is interfering with its employees' freedom of association," including a surge in "reports of retaliatory firings of workers leading unionization efforts" (via NYC Comptroller).

"As Starbucks' employees across the nation continue to lead unionization efforts, the company's leadership must cease activities that may be viewed as union-busting," the Comptroller's office wrote in a press release. While it's unclear when, or even if, the proposed independent evaluation of the coffee juggernaut's labor practices will take place, major investors have indicated they will no longer tolerate the corporation's anti-union efforts.

"We were not impressed by management's language at last week's investor day on worker rights. Clearly, they need to recommit to respecting worker rights to organize and collectively bargain which it made years ago in Starbucks' Global Human Rights Statement," said Jonas D. Kron, Chief Advocacy Officer of Trillium Asset Management, in a statement. "There is strong evidence that respecting worker rights is good for investors, employers, and workers. But, beyond that, genuinely respecting labor rights is the right thing for Starbucks to do."