Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said Wednesday that the company’s decision to hire 10,000 refugees was rooted in compassion, not politics, after shareholders booed a conservative critic who questioned the coffee giant’s plans.
Justin Danhof, the general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank and Starbucks shareholder, took his time at the microphone during the Q&A portion of Starbucks’ annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday to ask some pointed questions.
Danhof implied it was partisan and hypocritical of Starbucks to criticise Trump’s initial executive order barring refugees and people from seven-majority Muslim countries from entering the US.
“Why were you willing to have Starbucks’ reputation take a beating when you spoke out against President Trump’s travel ban, when you lacked the courage to speak out against the Obama-Clinton travel ban?” Danhof asked.
Starbucks shareholders at the meeting could be heard audibly boo-ing Danhof after he asked his question.
Danhof cited a Business Insider article from February, which reported that the coffee giant’s consumer perception levels fell by two-thirds after Schultz announced plans to hire refugees and openly criticised the president’s immigration ban in late January, based on YouGov BrandIndex data.
On Wednesday, Schultz responded that Starbucks’ decisions are based on the company’s values of “humanity and compassion,” not politics.
“I can unequivocally tell you — and we all know this from the research we have done — is there is zero, absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there is any dilution in the integrity of the Starbucks brand, reputation, or our core business as a result of being compassionate,” Schultz said.
Schultz also disputed Danhof’s claim that the company would have to spend extra money to vet refugee workers, saying that the hiring of refugees would not result in any additional costs to Starbucks.
Speaking with Business Insider after the meeting, Danhof said as a conservative, he “did not feel comfortable sitting in the shareholders meeting,” and that he believed any conservatives working at Starbucks would feel similarly stifled.
“From an investment standpoint, having hostility… to conservatives and conservative leaders — they’re diminishing half of their potential customer base,” he said.
Meanwhile, Schultz has maintained that Starbucks is not anti-Trump, despite his own support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think on any level that Starbucks or the brand is at odds with Trump or his supporters,” Schultz said on CNBC in December. “One of the values we feel very strongly as a company is to demonstrate a level of social impact to the community that we serve.”
Here’s the video of the showdown between Starbucks’ CEO and a conservative shareholder:
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