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Shame on Starbucks for Sanctioning Saudi Oppression!

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By Scott Powell from Powell History Recommends,cross-posted by MetaBlog

What is more normal in America that having a business meeting at a Starbucks?

At the next table, a gaggle of stroller moms will be chatting away after a walk-run.

At the table beyond a group of students will be studying for a college exam.

And next to them a young couple will meet for the first time, after matching up on-line in twenty-nine categories of compatibility!

Starbucks is exactly the kind of place free people love to congregate, for every kind of wonderful life-promoting consensual social activity that they take for granted.

But they shouldn’t do so today.  Every Starbucks in America should be empty, in protest of the fact that Starbucks chooses to do business in Saudi Arabia, where if a businesswoman meets with a man that she’s not related to in a Starbucks, she can be arrested by the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” and strip-searched! (See this AFP story on GoogleNews.)

To do business in a country that oppresses its people is to sanction that regime.  By setting up shop in a Saudi mall, you’re saying “Go ahead, rape that teen-aged girl, and when you’re done, enjoy an iced-latte to regain your energy.  We believe that your country is a valid place for us to make a Star-buck.”

What’s the point of selling “fair trade” coffee in your American stores, if you’re going to do that?!

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Starbucks. It’s a great American success story.  But the idea that they are serving some agent of the Saudi religious police the same tall wet Capuccino that I would have had today makes my blood boil!

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This post prompted me to look around for other businesses setting up shop in Saudi Arabia, and in about half an hour I was able to make the following list (which I am sure is far from exhaustive):

COFFEE, ETC.

Starbucks

Seattle’s Best

Baskin Robbins

RESTAURANTS

McDonald’s

Burger King

Chuck E Cheese

Dominos Pizza

Friday’s

Fun Time Pizza

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Pizza Hut

Subway

HOTELS

Four Seasons

Hilton

Marriott

Radisson

Sheraton

RETAIL STORES

Saks Fifth Avenue

The Gap

Oshkosh B’gosh

DKNY Jeans

The Aromatherapy Shop

Radio Shack

Nine West

OIL COMPANIES

Amoco

Chevron

Conoco

Exxon

Fina

Philips 66

Valero

U.S. GOVERNMENT

For example: United States Department of Commerce, “Commercial Service in Saudi Arabia." "The mission of the Commercial Service in Saudi Arabia is to support U.S. commercial interests in the United States and help U.S. companies increase sales and market share in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Unless and until more rational philosophy -- ultimately Objectivism -- becomes more widespread in America, Americans, American companies, and the U.S. government will continue to sanction Saudi Arabia. Posts like Scott Powell's should help bring about more awareness and philosophical change.

Edited to fix grammatical error.

Edited by Old Toad
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Unless and until more rational philosophy -- ultimately Objectivism -- becomes more widespread in America, Americans, American companies, and the U.S. government will continue to sanction Saudi Arabia. Posts like Scott Powell's should help bring about more awareness and philosophical change.

I agree with this and wanted to comment on how much of an uphill battle it will be to change the corporate world in this regard.

There is a very large amount of positive reinforcement of the idea of doing business anywhere despite philosophical dissonance. There are the shareholders who don't hold a discerning view on doing business in bad places and in my opinion the majority of which are too short sighted to understand the albeit subtle but ominous long term results of doing so. Then there are the business people who are rightfully devoted to increasing stock value, but only in the "dollar amount" sense, and not in a way that will the promote integrity and in some ways the lasting saftey of the business, shareholders, and their headquarters.

I am tempted to say that a wellspoken CEO could hold a company to higher standards but because the nature of publically held companies the only way to change the philosophical foundation of a corporation is to change the philisophical foundation, namley the public.

Though it could happen that an American company like Starbuck would take a stand and refuse to do business in places that largely contain bad people, I don't think corporate business people, however philosophically sound, have the power to promote ethical business practices across the board. (no pun intended)

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I would like to offer a different perspective.

One of the signficant factors contributing to Poland being the first country in the Eastern Bloc to overthrow a communist rule was because it was the least economically and culturally isolated. Despite widespread propaganda about the evil of capitalism, people were allowed to experience (abeit to a small degree) what capitalism has to offer (through Western movies (and some literature), Pewex stores - a chain of hard currency shops selling therwise unobtainable Western goods in exchange for Western currencies ect)

At the same time the "superior" socialism, in contrast, failed to supply enough of even the most basic of goods.

Those were very powerful messages in a country without freedom of speech.

Kendall pointed out to me in chat that American business is helping to promote progress in China. American companies demonstrate the best of practices by following business laws and by treating their employees well which then sets standards for everybody else.

I think it is not a big stretch to expect that something similarly positive can happen in the Middle East.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Starbucks is not the cause of the problem you're describing; they are a victim here as much as any other company that does business in Saudi Arabia. The "problem" is the Saudi government combined with moslem customs (it's only really a problem when viewed from the perspective of Western ethics and morals; moslems appear to be perfectly happy with those rules).

If you don't want to indirectly sanction that behavior, then you should avoid anything related to Saudi oil or that otherwise provides revenue to the Saudis, directly or indirectly -- not just Starbucks. Given the prevalence of oil and its use to manufacture or transport so many components of American society, I suspect that will be a challenging thing to do while living in the US (though not impossible).

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I would like to offer a different perspective.

One of the significant factors contributing to Poland being the first country in the Eastern Bloc to overthrow a communist rule was because it was the least economically and culturally isolated. Despite widespread propaganda about the evil of capitalism, people were allowed to experience (abeit to a small degree) what capitalism has to offer (through Western movies (and some literature), Pewex stores - a chain of hard currency shops selling therwise unobtainable Western goods in exchange for Western currencies ect)

At the same time the "superior" socialism, in contrast, failed to supply enough of even the most basic of goods.

Those were very powerful messages in a country without freedom of speech.

Kendall pointed out to me in chat that American business is helping to promote progress in China. American companies demonstrate the best of practices by following business laws and by treating their employees well which then sets standards for everybody else.

I think it is not a big stretch to expect that something similarly positive can happen in the Middle East.

I agree with this perspective. In addition, I have always considered the benefits of opening trade with Cuba. To my understanding, despite being a dirt poor Communist nation, Cuba is not a military threat to the United States. The best way to dissolve the oppressive communist regime might be to allow trade with Cuba. Perhaps if the Cuban residents discover how awesome life is in a capitalist-leaning mixed economy such as the United States, there would be regime change within a few years.

Trade policy with respect to countries that are military threats to the United States should be different, especially if that threatening regime owns much of the production within its borders.

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Kendall pointed out to me in chat that American business is helping to promote progress in China. American companies demonstrate the best of practices by following business laws and by treating their employees well which then sets standards for everybody else.

I think it is not a big stretch to expect that something similarly positive can happen in the Middle East.

The original blog post where I articulated this is here:

http://crucibleandcolumn.blogspot.com/2007...s-on-china.html

Just so folks understand I don't particularly advocate either an engagement or isolation strategy in cases like these. I think it is very context dependant, but both could be viable strategies. Many people have taken Rand's absolute isolation strategy on Soviet Russia as an indication that only one strategy is corret. I'm not convinced.

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To do business in a country that oppresses its people is to sanction that regime. By setting up shop in a Saudi mall, you’re saying “Go ahead, rape that teen-aged girl, and when you’re done, enjoy an iced-latte to regain your energy. We believe that your country is a valid place for us to make a Star-buck.”

This is the statement that I have the most problem with. That is, that to do any sort of business in a country is to sanction a regime.

This was the topic of one of the first posts I put up when I first arrived here (lo these almost 18 months ago <ahttp://forum.objectivismonline.com/uploads/emoticons/default_smile.png' alt=':)'>) And it's also the disagreement over which I left The Forum permanently, after being overwhelmed by just such reponses. I quote some Rand in that thread and also I know that Peikoff has discussed what one's moral reach is in deciding to trade with someone else, and I do not believe that moral reach extends this far in a trade. There may be contexts when it is clearly immoral to deal with a government (such as a wholly communist dictatorship - which by the way is NOT where I would put today's China), but that does not extend to every possible trade one can engage in.

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