A decision by Starbucks Coffee Company to ban women from entering one of its outlets in Saudi Arabia has sparked uproar on social media, with users worldwide calling for a boycott.
Saudi Arabia, which practises an austere version of Islam, has an abysmal human rights record, particularly with regards to protecting women. Although in recent years the rights of women have been incrementally extended – including a royal decree which allowed females to vote in local elections in December 2015 – their actions are still heavily restricted (see restrictions against women box below).
Local media revealed last week that Saudi Arabia's religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, had forbidden women from entering a Starbucks coffee shop in the capital Riyadh after a "gender-separating" wall collapsed. A note taped to the door of the establishment told women to get their drivers to order for them instead.
This created much public controversy, with social media users sharing their outrage. A French cartoonist, Herve Baudry, for instance, shared one of its artworks on Twitter:
Users, such as Valerie Aubouin, called for a boycott. She wrote on Twitter: "If Starbucks bend over the non-respect of women's rights, I will not be a customer! #BoycottStarbucks".
This trending hashtag was shared by another user, Guillaume Balas, who wrote: "Starbucks prefers money to most fundamental rights of human beings, let's stop giving us ours."
Starbucks told the US magazine Cosmopolitan it "adheres to local customs by building separate entrances for families and individuals". "All our coffee stores provide equipment, services, menus and egalitarian seats between men, women and families," the chain said.