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Starbucks lost $11 billion in market value in two weeks. Did pro-Palestinian boycotts play a role?

Amid a months-long push for unionization, emerging boycotts, and a tumultuous stock market, the company lost $11 billion in market value since Nov. 16.

A coalition of unions and supporters join Starbucks workers at a rally outside a midtown Manhattan Starbucks coffee store, calling for "fair schedules and wages" on Nov. 16 in New York. On Thursday, Starbucks reported roughly an $11 billion loss in market value since Nov. 16.Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Long under fire for alleged union-busting activities, Starbucks Corporation is now receiving backlash from boycotters furious with the company’s response to a union’s pro-Palestinian social media post shortly after Oct. 7.

It is unclear how much the boycotts, which began in the middle of October, have affected Starbucks’ market value. But, the company’s market value decreased for 12 straight days, according to the Wall Street Journal, accruing an estimated $11 billion in lost market value and encouraging speculation regarding the role of the boycotts.

Keith Hylton — a Boston University professor of law with expertise in economics, labor, and employment — said there are many economic factors that influence a company’s market value, but boycotts can’t be ruled out of the question.

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“Can a boycott be responsible for what we’re seeing? It certainly could be,” he said.

On Thursday, Starbucks reported roughly an $11 billion loss in market shares since Nov. 16. The decline accounts for about a tenth of the company’s total market value, Bloomberg reported.

Hylton described the decline as the stock market’s projection of Starbucks’ future value, with “future” referring to the next couple of months. While the stock market is always fluctuating, Hylton said Starbucks’ recent loss is outside the realm of normal loss and gain.

“That doesn’t sound like a regular up and down,” Hylton said. “Nine percent is pretty big for a stock market loss. That doesn’t happen day to day. That’s a pretty significant impact.”

In mid-October, Starbucks sued Workers United, the union organizing its workers, after a social media account linked to the union posted “in solidarity with Palestine” earlier that month. Starbucks alleged the post, which has since been deleted, damaged the company’s reputation and demanded that the union stop using the name Starbucks Workers United as well as a circular green logo resembling the company logo. Workers United sued back, arguing Starbucks had defamed it by alleging union workers supported violence, according to the Associated Press.

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After Starbucks sued Workers United, international backlash — including allegations that Starbucks supports Israel in the Israel-Hamas war — ensued. The company stated in October saying it does not provide financial support to the Israeli government or army, but calls to boycott have continued.

Prior to Starbucks’ lawsuit with Workers United, there were already calls to boycott the company over accusations of union-busting. When coupled with Starbucks workers’ ongoing push to unionize, the lawsuit raised international awareness — and dislike — of the company, sparking a fierce boycott against it, with social media posts featuring the hashtag #boycottstarbucks garnering millions of views.

Edgar Dworsky, a longtime Massachusetts-based consumer advocate, said even less-organized boycotts than the one currently underway can be effective.

“It doesn’t have to be an organized thing with picket signs and protests outside of stores,” Dworsky said. “If individual consumers who are regulars read about an issue that touches them personally, their wallet does the talking sometimes.”

Hylton said boycotts can have extremely powerful effects on the value of a company. The wide reach of the current Starbucks boycott likely played a large role in the company’s decreased value, Hylton said.

Another potential reason for a dip in market value is a mass loss of customer interest, Hylton said, which is likely not the case because the current losses are so significant. He added that, when international, boycotts can have a “super damaging” effect.

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“This is unusual. This is different,” Hylton said. “[Boycotters] have connected Starbucks with an international cause.”

The future for Starbucks is uncertain, Dworsky said.

“Clearly, their stock is taking a significant hit,” he said. “It’s certainly gotten the company’s attention. I don’t know what Starbucks can realistically do to win back customers.”


Vivi Smilgius can be reached at vivi.smilgius@globe.com. Follow her @viviraye.