People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced yesterday by Press Release that it has purchased the minimum number of stock in Starbucks so that it can submit shareholders’ resolutions at the company’s Annual General Meetings, as well as attend and speak. This is part of the animal rights group’s campaign to get the coffee chain to stop charging up to 80 cents extra for plant-based milk – the so-called “vegan tax” or “vegan surcharge”.
“Many coffee drinkers are lactose intolerant, and PETA is intolerant of cruelty to cows, which is why charging extra for soy and nut milk is hard to swallow,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.
“PETA is heading to Starbucks’ boardroom to urge the company to end this unfair surcharge.”
The theatrical element of this type of protest can be highly effective. Many campaigning organisations, PETA itself included, have used the trick of buying minimum levels of stock (or shares) to make a strong point at a public AGM. At the time of writing one Starbucks stock is $88.78 which is the minimum number of stock that can be bought. This represents extremely good value for the ability to make a nuisance of oneself. But as an investment, it is, of course, not a great idea to buy just one stock – brokerage fees and minimum commission levels will quickly make such a purchase uneconomic.
PETA’s position is that the surcharge punishes those who are lactose intolerant and those who want to reduce the dairy industry’s methane gas emissions.
Ultimately the surcharge penalises those who oppose the systemic cruelty to cows that is inherent in the dairy industry. PETA’s Press Release describes the dairy industry as follows:
“cows are artificially inseminated (raped via an inserted syringe) and calves are torn away from their loving mothers within a day of birth. Mother cows have been known to wail for their calves for days after separation. Male calves are often slaughtered for veal, and females are eventually sentenced to the same miserable fate as their mothers and then killed when they stop producing enough milk to be profitable”.
Golden PR opportunity for Starbucks to take a moral stand
As we have argued if Starbucks wants to be seen as being on the right side of history, it would not hesitate to abandon the vegan surcharge. This vegan tax does not encourage people who are trying to make decisions whether it be for their health or for the environment or for animals.
It is not Starbucks’ fault that milk is produced with subsidies and is therefore cheaper. But the multi-national corporation can take a moral stand. It is submitted that this would benefit its corporate PR and ultimately therefore its bottom line.
“There are several other companies that don’t charge extra, including Tim Horton’s, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and Whole Foods,” said a PETA spokeswoman.
In the UK Starbucks charges 40 pence more for oat, almond or coconut milk.
A company’s raison d’être is to make a profit for its shareholders but nowadays companies increasingly want to be seen as responsible corporate citizens – just look at the number of corporations who actively supported the youth’s environmental climate strikes.
PETA once filed a resolution urging Procter & Gamble to animal testing. Whilst the resolution failed, the multinational did eventually phase out animal testing that was not legally required as it was, for example in China.
The organisation announced in July this year that it had bought stock in Facebook as it took exception to the social media giant’s increased use of warning screens on PETA’s videos that showed incidents of routine cruelty to animals. PETA considers that this reduces its effectiveness in exposing animal suffering to a wider audience.
PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters. Its Starbucks campaign has nearly 173,000 signatures, still short of its 200,000 target. PETA’s presence at Starbucks’ next AGM in the Spring should be quite entertaining.