Human Rights Campaign hands Starbucks inclusion award despite anti-LGBTQ+ accusations

Starbucks workers protest outside of a local chain.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has come under fire for endorsing Starbucks, despite the coffee chain’s alleged anti-union and anti-LGBTQ+ actions over the past year.

As part of its 2023-2024 Corporate Equality Index report, the human rights group listed Starbucks Corporation among several other companies to gain a perfect score of 100 for its LGBTQ+ rights protections.

The HRC wrote that the score was given to companies that it believed “took concrete steps to establish and implement comprehensive policies, benefits and practices that ensure greater equity for LGBTQ+ workers”.

But the decision has been met with widespread criticism from LGBTQ+ activists who have argued the company has used LGBTQ+ rights as a threat in its anti-union campaign over the past few years.

Following a string of Starbucks locations unionising throughout 2022 and 2023, staff have alleged that gender-affirming care benefits under the company’s healthcare plan could be dropped if unionisation continued.

Speaking to Bloomberg in June 2022, one trans member of staff claimed that her manger used a “veiled threat” to prevent unionisation, suggesting that trans-healthcare-related benefits could worsen if a union was formed.

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A spokesperson for Starbucks told CNBC at the time that the claim was false.

A similar story in June this year had the report that Starbucks workers had alleged that the company prevented staff putting up Pride decorations in one outlet.

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“If Starbucks was a true ally, they would stand up for us, especially during a time when LGBTQ+ people are under attack,” a statement from Starbucks Workers United (SWU), which first aired the allegations, said.

“A company that cares wouldn’t turn their back on the LGBTQ+ community to protect their already astronomically high profits.”

In a statement given to PinkNews, Starbucks said that no change to corporate policy on Pride decorations had taken place and that it was still “unwaveringly” supportive of the community.

“Starbucks has a history that includes more than four decades of recognising and celebrating our diverse partners and customers – including year-round support for the LGBTQIA2+ community,” the statement read.

Strike action was scheduled in June after the SWU claimed that unfair labour practices and a “refusal to bargain over changes in Pride decoration policies” resulted in “hypocritical” treatment of queer workers.

Starbucks award

At the time of reporting, more than 366 Starbucks outlets, with more than 9,100 employees across the US, have unionised.

Workers are currently pressing for a higher minimum wage to help tackle the cost of living crisis, as well as fighting for “fair scheduling procedures” and guaranteed minimum hours for workers.

The company has been accused by several groups and political figures of employing union-busting tactics.

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In March, senator Bernie Sanders clashed with ex-Starbucks chief executive, Howard Schultz, after the former presidential candidate accused the coffee giant of “the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country”.

In response, Schultz said he was confident that Starbucks had not broken the law and that officials “want to treat everyone with respect and dignity”.

The HRC gave the company five out of five for workforce protection criteria and a perfect score for corporate social responsibility.

HRC also awarded top marks to the Walt Disney Corporation, which just last year was heavily criticised for removing a same-sex kiss from the animated film Lightyear.

In a statement to PinkNews, senior director of workplace equality for the Human Rights Campaign, RaShawn Hawkins said the organisation fully supports unions and the “right for workers to unionise for better working conditions, wages and benefits.”

“The CEI is a benchmarking tool for corporate policies and best practices,” Hawkins continued. “We strongly encourage corporations like Starbucks to ensure those policies are implemented effectively in all entities across the country.”

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