Starbucks, Saudi and Segregation

The internet is alive with people criticising Starbucks for complying with laws in Saudi Arabia to provide a ‘gender wall.’ They temporarily banned women from entering while the wall was constructed. Imagine if it was a ‘race wall’ segregating blacks from white! I will never buy coffee from Starbucks again! etc

But why is Saudi Arabia’s horrific attitude towards women in any way the fault of Starbucks? They are being accused of supporting the Saudi treatment of women by operating in the country. But so is every other company out there – and pretty much every major chain store or restaurant is there (pizza hut, costa coffee, marks and spencer…it’s a long list). Every one of them complies with the local laws to ensure gender segregation. If you support a boycott of Starbucks on the grounds of women’s rights, you should boycott every company that operates there. It would make your next trip to your local High Street a short one.

What is good about this story is that it brings the plight of suppressed women to life. We all know that women have very few rights in Saudi but here is an example of the daily reality of that: banned from getting your mocha simply because you are female and your presence might offend the men. It’s barely believable that this is possible.

I would love to do something to ensure women around the world are entitled to the same level of freedom I enjoy in the West (I know there are some women who say they don’t want equality, but I think they should at least have the choice between oppression and freedom), but I don’t think blaming Starbucks is going to help.

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