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With his decision to step down as executive chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz has been in the news a lot lately, and one resurfacing headline would have readers believe he once told opponents of same-sex marriage that he did not want their business. But this is an uncorroborated quote that has been floating around the internet for years.
"Starbucks CEO: ‘If You Support Traditional Marriage We Don’t Want Your Business," said a February 2017 headline from My Christian Daily, which circulated social media last week. My Christian Daily is a project from Initiate Media, a Christian media company that "seek(s) to make God famous," according to its "About" page.
Similar stories have appeared on various websites since 2013. My Christian Daily cited an article from the Washington Press — a website that we were unable to find and may no longer exist — as well as an article from Forbes.
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The story about Schultz said that during a 2013 annual meeting for Starbucks shareholders, Schultz received a complaint from Tom Strobhar, founder of The Corporate Morality Action Center, an organization with a mission to "challenge companies that offend traditional moral norms" such as "the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
Strobhar said he believed Starbucks lost revenue because of its public support for a 2012 same-sex marriage referendum, which in turn inspired boycotts from anti-gay-marriage groups, such as the National Organization for Marriage. The referendum asked voters if same-sex marriage should be legalized in the state of Washington, and Starbucks joined other leading Washington-area companies in supporting the measure.
In response, the story went, Schultz told Strobhar to sell his Starbucks shares and invest in other companies.
As it turns out, Schultz’s actual remarks were more nuanced, and we did not find any credible articles that quoted him saying he did not want business from opponents of same-sex marriage. Snopes debunked this falsehood years ago and updated its post on Sunday.
Schultz said at the time that the decision to support same-sex marriage was about respecting diversity rather than maximizing revenue.
"Not every decision is an economic decision," Schultz said. "Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38 percent shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38 percent over the last 12 months."
He continued: "Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity of all kinds. If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company."
Schultz’s 38 percent figure comes from fiscal year 2012, meaning the timeframe between October 2011 to September 2012. This return was down from the previous fiscal year, which saw a 46 percent shareholder return. (See a video of Schultz’s full response.)
When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, Starbucks issued a statement applauding the decision and recalling Schultz’s exchange with Strobhar as "the company’s most vocal statement on diversity and equality."
Reggie Borges, a spokesperson for Starbucks, said the My Christian Daily story is not accurate and pointed to the Snopes fact-check, a video of Schultz’s response and the statement released after 2015 Supreme Court ruling as evidence.
My Christian Daily did not respond to a request for comment.
A headline stated, "Starbucks CEO: ‘If You Support Traditional Marriage We Don’t Want Your Business.’"
This is a claim that has circulated since 2013. At an annual meeting for company shareholders, Strobhar said the company’s support for same-sex marriage was eroding its bottom line, which prompted Schultz to defend his decision.
Schultz said Strobhar was free to sell his Starbucks stocks and invest in another company if he believed the company’s social policies meant he could get a better return on his money elsewhere. He did not say opponents of same-sex marriage were not wanted as investors or as customers.
We rate this statement False.
My Christian Daily, "Starbucks CEO: ‘If You Support Traditional Marriage We Don’t Want Your Business,’" February 23, 2017.
Fromthetrenchesworldreport.com, "Starbucks CEO: If You Support Traditional Marriage, We Don’t Want Your Business," December 31, 2013.
Forbes, "Howard Schultz To Anti-Gay-Marriage Starbucks Shareholder: ‘You Can Sell Your Shares,’" March 22, 2013.
Snopes, "Starbucks and Same-Sex Marriage," June 3, 2018.
Starbucks Newsroom, "Starbucks Applauds Supreme Court’s Ruling on Marriage Equality," June 26, 2015.
Business Insider, "Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Slaps Down Anti-Gay Marriage Activist at Shareholder Meeting," March 22, 2013.
CNN Money, "Starbucks CEO holds his ground on gay marriage," March 28, 2013.
The Washington Post, "Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s grande support for gay marriage," March 25, 2013.
Starbucks Newsroom, "Delivering Record Performance Through the Lens of Humanity," accessed June 5, 2018.
PolitiFact, "The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage," June 29, 2015.
Corporate Morality Action Center, Homepage, accessed June 5, 2018.
Dump Starbucks, "Why dump starbucks?" accessed June 5, 2018.
Email interview with Reggie Borges, Starbucks spokesman, June 5, 2018.
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