CJPME Factsheet 241, created April 2024: This factsheet examines the reasons behind the boycott of Starbucks by certain pro-Palestine activists, particularly in light of allegations of mistreatment of Starbucks Workers United following a solidarity tweet with Palestine. It delves into Starbucks' claimed neutrality, its legal actions against the union, and indirect economic ties to Israel through major shareholders, sparking debates about its complicity in the Israel-Palestine conflict and prompting considerations for conscientious consumers.

Boycott Campaign: Starbucks

Factsheet Series No.241, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Why are some pro-Palestine activists boycotting Starbucks?

Following the start of Israel’s military assault on Gaza in late 2023, there has been a renewed push for boycotts of companies complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Starbucks is sometimes named as a company that should be boycotted due to its alleged support for Israel and complicity in Israel’s actions. However, Starbucks is not on the official boycott list managed by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), and there is some disagreement about the nature of its support for Israel.

Does Starbucks politically support Israel?

Starbucks claims to be neutral and insists that it has “no political agenda.”[1] However, one of the major reasons for the current boycott of Starbucks is related to its lawsuit against an employee union, “Starbucks Workers United.”

In 2023, Starbucks condemned and then sued Starbucks Workers United over a tweet posted on October 7 with the text “Solidarity with Palestine!” alongside an image of a bulldozer breaking through the Gaza fence. The tweet, written by a single individual and not approved by union leaders, was quickly deleted and later replaced with a full statement in solidarity with Palestine.[2] Starbucks accused the union of showing “support for violence perpetrated by Hamas” and claimed that the lawsuit was necessary to protect itself against the unauthorized use of its name and logo.[3] In response, the union accused Starbucks of “seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in Gaza and Israel to bolster an anti-union campaign … by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.”[4]

Inevitably, Starbucks’ mistreatment of the union has been widely viewed as a form of retaliation against support for Palestine,[5] and many people have therefore decided that the company does not deserve their business.

Does Starbucks financially support Israel?

Despite what is sometimes claimed, Starbucks does not fund or provide direct financial support to Israel, and it hasn’t had any stores located in Israel since 2003.[6] In late 2023, Starbucks was compelled to issue a statement insisting that “despite false statements spread through social media, Starbucks has never contributed to any government or military operation in any way.”[7] CJPME has not been able to find any evidence to the contrary.

There are, however, a couple of ways that spending money at Starbucks could potentially provide indirect financial support to Israel. First, this is through the activities of Howard Shultz, former CEO and current major shareholder. Despite leaving the company in 2023, his influence within Starbucks is still significant given how long he served as CEO and his substantial ownership stake. Shultz remains one of the largest shareholders with almost 3% of the company's total shares.[8] Going back to the early 2000s, Starbucks faced boycotts under Shultz’s leadership due to his (failed) attempt to expand stores in Israel and for his pro-Israel views.[9] For example, as CEO in 1998, Shultz received the "Israel 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Tribute Award" from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah for "playing a key role in promoting a close alliance between the United States and Israel."[10] More recently, in 2021 Shultz supported Israel by investing in Israeli cyber-security start-up Wiz.[11]

In another example of indirect financial support for Israel, some of Starbucks’ biggest shareholders are also major investors in military companies with ties to Israel:

  1. The Vanguard Group holds approximately 90.5 million shares of Starbucks (7.7%),4 and is also a top shareholder in Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company.[12]
  2. BlackRock holds approx. 84.3 million shares of Starbucks (7.2%),[13] and is also a top shareholder in Lockheed Martin, which produces fighter jets for the Israeli military and boasts of being “proud of the significant role it has fulfilled in the security of the State of Israel.”[14]

This means that, in theory, the profits of Starbucks could indirectly support Israel by being reinvested into companies that produce weapons for the Israeli military. However, these linkages are not because of the actions of Starbucks or its current leadership, but instead reflect the actions of its major investors.

Has the boycott of Starbucks made an impact?

Starbucks faced economic difficulties at the end of 2023 and into the start of 2024, with lower sales and a declining share price, and ended up firing over 2,000 staff in the Middle East.[15] Starbucks’ CEO admitted that this poor performance was partially due to the role of boycotts, explaining that the company “saw a negative impact to our business in the Middle East,” and said that “events in the Middle East also had an impact in the U.S., driven by misperceptions about our position.”[16] Around this same time, McDonald’s also faced boycotts due to its Israeli franchisee’s support for the Israeli military, and the company similarly admitted that this had a negative financial impact on the company.[17]

Should we boycott Starbucks?

Whether or not to boycott Starbucks is a question for individual conscientious consumers to decide. The company’s legal action against Starbucks Workers United over its post in solidarity with Palestine is outrageous, and many people will agree that the company deserves to be held accountable. Beyond this, however, Starbucks’ support for Israel appears to be overstated. There are indirect economic links to Israel, namely through the substantial ownership of the company by its former CEO and other major investment firms, which also own companies that are directly complicit in Israel. These indirect links raise questions about the broader implications of supporting Starbucks, and where your money ultimately goes when you buy their coffee. That said, the BDS movement recommends that instead of boycotting every company that has indirect links to Israel, we instead focus strategically on a smaller list of carefully selected companies that are directly complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and where we can have the maximum impact.[18] In short, while it is perfectly legitimate to boycott Starbucks, there are many other companies with more direct forms of complicity in Israel’s actions against Palestinians that deserve our greater attention.


[1] Jon Gambrell and the Associated Press, “Mideast Starbucks franchisee is firing staff after being targeted in Israel-Hamas war boycott,” CTV News, March 5, 2024.

[2] Starbucks Workers United (@sbworkersunited), Instagram Post, October 20, 2023; Lynne Fox, “Starbucks is Exploiting the Violence in Gaza and Israel to Attack Its Union,” In These Times, October 20, 2023.

[3] Starbucks, “Starbucks condemns acts of terror and escalating violence, strongly disagrees with statements made by Workers United,” October 13, 2023.

[4] Lynne Fox, “Starbucks is Exploiting the Violence in Gaza and Israel to Attack Its Union,” In These Times, October 20, 2023.

[5] Jonathan Rosenblum, “How the Palestinian Justice Movement Helped Starbucks Workers United,” The Nation, March 11, 2024.

[6] Ben Brody, “Starbucks: We don’t fund Israel,” CNN, August 8, 2014.

[7] Starbucks, “What has Starbucks said about the conflict in Israel and Gaza? December 29, 2023.

[8] “The Top 5 Shareholders of Starbucks,” Investopedia, updated December 22, 2022.

[9] Bryant Simon, “Starbucks, Israel, and the Irrepressible Politics of the Global,” Urban History Association, June 25, 2014. 

[10] “Top seven Jewish things about former Starbucks CEO,” Jerusalem Post, February 1, 2019; “Howard Schultz,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed May 14, 2024.

[11] Ivan Levingston, “Ex-Starbucks Boss Schultz Invests in $1.7 Billion Cyber Firm Wiz,” BNN Bloomberg, April 7, 2021.

[12] “Elbit Systems Ltd.,” holders, Yahoo! Finance, accessed May 12, 2024.

[13] “Top Lockheed Martin Shareholders,” Investopedia, updated September 28, 2022.

[14] Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin Israel,” accessed May 14, 2024.

[15] Jon Gambrell and the Associated Press, “Mideast Starbucks franchisee is firing staff after being targeted in Israel-Hamas war boycott,” CTV News, March 5, 2024.

[16] Astha Rajvanshi and Yasmeen Serhan, “What to Know About the Global Boycott Movement Against Israel,” Time, February 14, 2024.

[17] Sam Gruet, “McDonald’s sales dented by Israel-Gaza boycotts,” BBC, February 5, 2024.

[18] Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), “Act Now Against These Companies Profiting from the Genocide of the Palestinian People,” BDS Movement, January 5, 2024.

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