The power of consumers and the Starbucks boycott

by Rahim Said

The ongoing boycott of Starbucks Malaysia has sparked a crucial conversation about the power of consumers in shaping corporate behaviour and the broader economy.

Malaysian franchise owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun’s recent appeal to Malaysians to reconsider their stance on the boycott highlights the complex interplay between consumer actions, corporate responses, and the local economy’s well-being.

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether consumer boycotts can effectively influence corporate behavior. In the case of Starbucks Malaysia, the boycott was intended to protest against practices linked to Israel and Zionists, reflecting consumers’ growing demand for ethical accountability from corporations.

However, Tan’s appeal sheds light on the unintended consequences of such boycotts. He emphasised that Starbucks Malaysia is a Malaysia-owned company, with a majority Muslim workforce, and argued that the boycott only harms Malaysians and the local economy.

This raises an important question: Do consumer boycotts, intended to hold corporations accountable, inadvertently hurt the very people they aim to protect?

The impact of the boycott on Starbucks Malaysia’s revenue is undeniable, as evidenced by Berjaya Food Bhd’s second-quarter financial results. However, Tan remains optimistic, pointing to signs of improvement and expecting a turnaround in the third quarter of FY24.

This suggests that while consumer actions can have a significant impact on corporations, they can also prompt a response that leads to positive change.

The Starbucks boycott in Malaysia serves as a reminder of the power consumers wield in influencing corporate behavior. It also highlights the need for consumers to consider the broader implications of their actions, ensuring that their efforts to hold corporations accountable do not inadvertently harm the local economy and its people.

As consumers, we have the power to shape corporate practices and drive positive change. However, this power comes with a responsibility to consider the broader implications of our actions.

The Starbucks boycott in Malaysia should prompt us to reflect on how we can effectively hold corporations accountable while ensuring that our actions benefit, rather than harm, our communities and economies.

Dr. Rahim Said is a human behaviourist and regular contributor on digital media platforms. He is a professional management consultant, a corporate trainer and an executive coach specialising in coaching of senior executives and individual entrepreneurs with the purpose of modifying their behaviour in the pursuit of their cherished missions. (The views expressed by our columnist are entirely his own)