Victory! Starbucks Apologizes

58033_473130880937_687160937_6369669_5343135_nEarlier this month we reported that a Starbucks in Bahrain willingly agreed to an unofficial government request to kick out a group of journalists, gynecologist international observers, visit human rights advocates and the families of torture victims, all just sitting around drinking coffee.

Then last week, after contacting a number of witnesses, we reported that the Starbucks staff kicked out the observers and human rights advocates after having locked them inside!

Despite extensive coverage by Change.org, tons of Middle Eastern media and some international coverage, Starbucks’ corporate bigwigs adamantly refused to apologize, telling Change.org that the incident was no big deal and the Starbucks branch had closed as “a precautionary safety measure.”

“The decision to close the store was taken solely by the local Starbucks manger,” Starbucks’ Middle East Communications Team told Change.org in a statement. “It is normal procedure when there are local demonstrations to close the store temporarily if the manager is concerned about the safety of staff partners and customers.”

The verdict? Starbucks corporate is… (drum roll)… lying.

Turns out that it is not, in fact, normal procedure to close the Starbucks branch and Starbucks corporate was, in fact, so worried about the November 25 incident and launched a full internal investigation into what happened.

The Starbucks branch manager himself, a man whose name we have been asked not to print, even apologized yesterday to Mohammed Al-Maskati, President of the Bahrain Youth Society For Human Rights.

“It was a successful campaign against Starbucks,” Mohammed told Change.org. “The Starbucks manager apologized to me for what Starbucks staff did to us human rights defenders.”

“He said ‘We are sorry for what happened to you and to other human rights defenders,'” Mohammed told of his conversation with the Starbucks branch manager. “We dont want to kick you out and we didn’t mean it. The staff took the wrong action and I am here today to ensure that it does not happen again.”

Change.org was also contacted by Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who had been locked inside and then kicked out of the Starbucks.

“Thanks for the support brother,” he said. “[The campaign] is doing well especially with Starbucks.”

He is pictured above inside the Starbucks yesterday celebrating the victory.

The incident began as supporters of 23 tortured human rights activists, bloggers, opposition members and dissident clerics gathered November 25 outside the ministry’s high criminal court for the third session of an ongoing trial in which the 23 detainees are accused of various crimes against the state. Change.org has covered the trial extensively since it began in October, and the fourth session was yesterday.

Forbidden by Bahraini security forces from entering the court or even standing outside it, the large group of journalists and human rights advocates had nothing to do, and entered a Starbucks branch immediately adjacent to the court to wait out the trial.

Bahraini security forces then asked the Starbucks to lock the group inside, a request which the Starbucks staff immediately agreed to. A short time later, the security forces asked the Starbucks to kick the group out and close. That request, too, the staff immediately agreed to.

“The Starbucks has been asked to close down and we have been kicked out.”
-Nabeel Rajab, Director, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

But faced with a request to expel community activists and the families of torture victims, all paying customers, the Starbucks management didn’t seem to recall their mission to “bring people together,” be “good neighbors” or “a catalyst for change,” but rather decided to explicitly collaborate with a government that tortures and violates the human rights of its citizens, in clear contrast to Starbucks’ own stated policies (see our original post for a more thorough examination of these policies).

Until yesterday not a single Starbucks employee had apologized for the incident.

But after hundreds of Change.org members signed the petition calling on Starbucks to apologize, we can all celebrate a victory on the path to getting the ‘Bahrain 23′ released.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to keep the pressure on Bahrain’s government to release the tortured detainees, who have done nothing beyond peaceful opposition to their government’s policies.

Winning this and similar campaigns depends on our ability to quickly call on thousands of supportive folks like you. After signing the petition below, please click here to help us win!

The photos used in this post were donated to Change.org by a photographer who was questioned by Bahraini security forces after the Starbucks incident. The photographer has asked us to refrain from printing their name.