Fact check: Starbucks CEO did not say that ‘traditional marriage’ supporters should not buy Starbucks coffee

Social media users have been sharing posts, which claim that the CEO of Starbucks said that if you believe in “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman you should not drink Starbucks coffee. This claim is false: Starbucks openly supports same-sex marriage, but Reuters found no evidence that either former CEO Howard Schultz or current CEO Kevin Johnson ever said that people who believe in “traditional marriage” should not drink Starbucks coffee. The comment seems to stem from a news headline that misquotes remarks made by Schultz at the 2013 Starbucks annual shareholders meeting.

A rainbow flag hangs from the window of a house during the International LGBT Pride Day, in Villanueva de Algaidas, southern Spain June 28, 2020. REUTERS

Many of the posts show a picture of former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, with screenshot saying “News”, followed by the headline, “Starbucks CEO: “If You Support Traditional Marriage DON’T Buy Our Coffee”” (here  ,  here  ,  here). The photo of Schultz used in many of the posts is a Reuters photo from April 13, 2010, visible here  .

Another post from September 2020, which is still being shared in February 2021, is a text post that says, “Starbucks CEO says if you believe the Bible interpretation of marriage between a man and woman, don’t drink our coffee, OK Deal!!” (here). It is not clear who this specific post is referring to as Schultz stepped down as CEO in 2018 and was replaced by Kevin Johnson (here).

Reggie Borges, Starbucks director of global communications, confirmed to Reuters via email that these claims are false. Reuters found no evidence of these remarks in credible media reports, on the Starbucks website or on Schultz’ and Johnson’s social media channels.

The text of the quote is the same as the headline of a news article published and shared by sites including Freedom Daily (in 2016), The Washington Press (in 2017) and My Christian Daily (in 2017), amongst others, that have been deleted but can be seen as archived links  here  ,  here  and here .

The articles reference an exchange between a shareholder called Tom Strobhar and Schultz. They say Schultz “went on to tell a shareholder who stands behind tradition (sic) marriage to sell his shares and invest elsewhere.”

An exchange between Strobhar and Schultz did take place at the 2013 Starbucks annual shareholders meeting, as reported by multiple media outlets including CNN and Forbes (here  ,  herehere), and seen in a video Borges shared with Reuters, visible here .

At the meeting Strobhar questioned Schultz about sales and earnings allegedly suffering after Starbucks openly came out in support of same-sex marriage.

Schultz replied that supporting gay marriage was not an economic decision and if Strobhar thought he could get a higher return elsewhere he could sell his shares in Starbucks. “Not every decision is an economic decision […] 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.”

He then said, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”

While he stood by his decision to be inclusive toward same sex marriage, Shultz did not say that consumers who supported traditional marriage should not buy Starbucks coffee in this exchange.

Starbucks released a memo in 2012 in support of same-sex marriage, visible here  . Following this, the National Organization for Marriage launched a campaign urging people to boycott Starbucks (here). Starbucks has continued to support same-sex marriage, releasing a statement (here) in 2015 applauding the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, among other actions supporting LGBTQ inclusion listed on the Starbucks website here  .

The same claim has circulated in the past and was fact-checked at the time by Politifact, Truth or Fiction and Snopes, as seen here  ,  here  and  here  .


False. Starbucks confirmed to Reuters that neither former CEO Schultz nor current CEO Johnson have made these remarks. The quote misconstrues a comment made in 2013 by Schultz about embracing same sex marriage.

This article has been produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here  .