Norway wealth fund to vote for labour rights motion at Starbucks AGM

OSLO, March 24 (Reuters) - Norway's $1.3 trillion wealth fund, one of the world's largest investors, will vote in favour of a shareholder motion calling on Starbucks (SBUX.O) to report on how it respects labour rights, the fund's manager said on Thursday.

The Norwegian fund owns 1.05% of Starbucks' shares, worth $1.2 billion at the end of 2022, according to fund data. It is the company's tenth-largest shareholder, according to Refinitiv Eikon. Starbucks is due to hold its annual meeting on Thursday.

Over the years, CEO Howard Schultz helped Starbucks build a reputation as a progressive employer, offering higher salaries and more benefits - including company stock and health insurance - than other restaurant chains.

But the company's response to a growing union campaign, as well some of Schultz's public comments, have been described by some critics, including some shareholders, as overly aggressive.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which operates the Norwegian wealth fund, said it would vote in favour of commissioning a third-party assessment of Starbucks' commitment to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

In a separate opinion piece published on Thursday, NBIM's Chief Governance and Compliance Officer, Carine Smith Ihenacho, and Caroline Eriksen, a senior fund official, said NBIM had grown concerned over the issue.

"Freedom of association and the right to collective wage bargaining are fundamental employee rights - and human rights," they said.

In response to a Reuters request for comment, Starbucks said it respected its "partners' rights to organise and engage in lawful union activities".

"We believe our direct relationship as partners is core to the culture and experiences we create in our stores and are actively engaging with shareholders on a variety of matters related to our 2023 annual meeting of shareholders," it said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Terje Solsvik and Jason Neely

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