Starbucks lends a hand (and a toilet) to Turkish protesters

A volunteer hands out food from the patio of the Taksim Square Starbucks in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

Starbucks has long been a target of anti-corporate protests. But one store on Istanbul’s Taksim Square has quietly given aid to Turkish protestors.

The anti-government protesters who have taken over Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the adjacent Taksim Square have found a surprising corporate sponsor, Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks.

Despite orders from Turkish police that the cafe should not aid protesters, the staff of the Taksim Square, Starbucks provided food, water, and first-aid to hundreds of protesters seeking refuge from police brutality.

“From the first moments of the protests happening in Taksim Gezi Park, Starbucks stores have kept their doors open to all those in need and provided all necessary assistance,” stated Starbucks Turkey in a press release published on their Facebook account.

See more photos from the protests in Istanbul

On May 28th a small group of environmentalists camped out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in an effort to save the park from corporate developers. The small protest quickly mushroomed into a widespread youth revolt that lead to violent clashes with police on the streets of Istanbul and around the country, leaving at least three dead and hundreds more injured.

An aerial view of Taksim Square. The Starbucks is next to the small Turkish flag on the left side of the photo. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

An aerial view of Taksim Square. The Starbucks is next to the small Turkish flag on the left side of the photo. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

Toykan Topcu, a 23-year-old student at Boğaziçi University took shelter in Starbucks during the second day of violence.

“Employees were helping people who needed shelter, putting waters out before somebody asked for them, and opening restrooms (normally secured with passwords),” said a thankful Topcu.

But Topcu’s grateful sentiments were not universal. During the first day of confrontations many people published statements on Twitter saying that  Starbucks was denying people entry.

“There may be some misunderstanding or they may be some mistakes done by employees,” said Topcu. “Now many protesters shout slogans against Starbucks, but I know the fact that there is no such political decision of Starbucks company like ‘don’t help these protesters, let them die.’”

Some protesters believe Starbucks was attacked on Twitter solely because it is a large international corporation, and not because of the behavior of the employees onsite.

“In this kind of demonstration which is against capitalism, world capitalism, the first victims are generally McDonald’s and also Starbucks,” said 28 year-old social democrat and occasional Starbucks customer Ufuk Unfug.

Unfug also said that it is the responsibility of large international corporations to build solidarity with local citizens.

Protesters shared news on their cell phones that police were coming to clear Taksim Square on Tuesday. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

Protesters shared news on their cell phones that police were coming to clear Taksim Square on Tuesday. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

“Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King etc, should be much more careful than other companies. They should be with people more, they should support those people more because as I said they are the first victims,” added Unfug.

On June 2nd Starbucks closed its doors and has not reopened since while other international corporations on the square, including both McDonald’s and Burger King, reopened almost immediately. Most other local businesses, many of them covered with graffiti and other signs of political unrest, also reopened as soon as the violence ended.

However the company may have provided aid even after closing. For the first few days after the initial protest the cafe’s patio functioned as a first aid and food distribution center. Omer-Arglin Goreuli, a 32-year-old programmer and web developer, volunteered at the site and said Starbucks staff gave them permission use the patio area and gave them some cups and other supplies.

“Starbucks can’t open then they said to us ‘we are closing here, you can use here,’” said Goreuli. “In some ways they are helping us, it’s really cool. It really helps,” he added.

A spokesman for Starbucks in Turkey denied that they had given anyone permission to use the patio.

While Starbucks functioned as a first-aid stand, volunteers used cups to hold small bits of supplies. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

While Starbucks functioned as a first-aid stand, volunteers used cups to hold small bits of supplies. (Photo by Christan Leonard)

The first-aid supplies were moved into the park after a few days but several members of Turkey’s socialist party continued to occupy the site on the grounds that it was an internationally recognized symbol of capitalism.

Although the area around Taksim Square was peaceful for all of last week, Starbucks refrained from reopening given the volatile nature of the protests. A Starbucks Turkey spokesman said the cafe will reopen only when the protests are over and they feel it is safe and ready to do so.

The debate surrounding the Taksim Square Starbucks is in many ways indicative of the ideological divisions within the Occupy Gezi movement itself.

Many vocal protesters are communists or socialists who want a complete overhaul of the current political and economic system. But others traipse through the grounds sipping on Starbucks coffee and texting on their iPhones, quite content in the age of global capitalism.

Starbucks corporate office in Seattle didn’t not respond to requests for comment on the protests.

Christan Leonard is a freelance journalist and photographer from Seattle, Washington. She has lived and worked in France, Kenya and Colombia and is eager to expand this list to include most of the known world. She graduated from the University of Washington in 2011 with degrees in international studies and economics. To see further examples of her work, visit her website at www.christanleonard.com.

18 COMMENTS

    • Check her facts before complimenting her. The article contradicts itself and sounds like it’s influenced by the corporation. THEY SLAMMED AND LOCKED THEIR DOORS ON PEOPLE BEING TEAR GASSED. Do not invest in a Starbucks in Turkey, it simply won’t survive, they didn’t care about the well being of the Turkish people therefor not ONE LIRA will be spent in Starbucks. ALL LIES STARBUCKS!!!! Nice try with trying to recover your image, too late YOUR ACTIONS ARE LOUD AND CLEAR, STARBUCKS = PROFITS, NOT HUMANITY.

  1. Total corporate propaganda. The author didn’t tell you how they shut the door on the face of people on the first days of the protest. Only after Starbucks was blacklisted by Turkish people did the company come around to this position. Turkish people are now boycotting starbucks in Turkey. Please do a follow up report.

    • Thank you Tony, I totally agree, FYI I’m in Canada and boycotting Starbucks and encouraging all my friends to do same. Starbucks has not responded to any of my inquiries, oh well I gave them a chance to explain themselves first, they didn’t take advantage so BOYCOTT it is.

  2. Starbucks did not close its doors the first day; check your facts before you spread more hate and problems. I know people that were there and I know the people that work there. There were 3 people on duty at that time, with the manager not there. The main culprit in this was a very young girl and they panicked for a moment, as would most people and then they composed themselves and were wonderful to the community. They risked there own selves to be there, protested by people and fear of the police. This world is full of people so eager to be angry and point fingers. This was about a park and saving it and then about police brutality and everyone was scared. Seriously, have some grace for humanity and stay focused on the root of the issue- Erdogan and politics, not a business!

    • So you admit Starbucks panicked and locked its doors on people being tear gassed on the street. Sorry too little too late. We all saw Starbucks’ initial reaction which was not based on HUMANITY. Now you actually want the people that were tear gassed to have compassion and humanity towards a corporation. Get real. I wonder why Starbucks didn’t have an audit recently into their finances in Turkiye? The root of the problem is Erdogan and his hold on media and other corporate companies, we’re just trying to get rid of the whole problem. What next support Sabah newspaper? Starbucks had a chance, and another one to explain themselves, they decided to stay silent, so now their stores in Turkey will stay silent…. with no customers.

      • They did not stay silent. I have spoken to 2 different people that were there when it happened; those people have tried to speak up, but those type of things do not go viral on social media. The man who took the picture when it was actually taken was not even there when it happened and was walking back to his office and snapped the shot. The Starbucks that this whole blown up scenario started with is right around the park and never had anyone give any problems there, because everyone that was actually there from the time it happened knew how much Starbucks was helping. Most of my friends were out there protesting and only had great things to say. People are way too quick to jump on a bandwagon with social media; including what I have always considered unreliable and sometimes comedic newspapers. Did you happen to know that there was no manager there at the time an the main one dealing with things at the moment was an 18 year old girl. By the way, these are all Turkish citizens and there jobs that are being protested . They all still showed up for work even though they were ALSO being gassed and at the same time fearful of what the “gone astray” protesters would do. They volunteeraly stayed open until the wee hours of the morning without being asked. They gave out free water and coffee, along with milk and lemon for peoples eyes and had to have gas masks of their own. This was done from the beginning and yes, there are people and photos to attest to that, but those did not get passed around. There were plenty of tweets going around thanking Starbucks, but again, people only hear what they want. Funny thing, when I wAs watching live footage of the area, every business around had there security doors down; why was no one protesting those? 5 Starbucks stores were completely destroyed, money stolen, walls torn apart, an graffitti left everywhere, many more vandalized, guests at stores having water thrown on them and spoken to horribly. Is this what you represent? Is that democracy? I know it is not what the original protesters of Deri would support. One way I know, is that I may not have been at the park, because I did not know about it at the time, but I was a very vocal supporter of the park and outraged that the government would take another piece of public land. We need more parks!!! I am also appauled and horrified at the lack any humanity involving the demonstrators!!! But I am not a supporter of retaliation, damaging property, jumping in on a protest against a company that is made up of all Turkish citizens from a bunch of people that were not even there. This is about Erdogan and his government; it needs to stay focused on that! And don’t even bother trying to go into Starbucks is run by the government or bas their hand in Erdogan’s pants; they have nothing to do with politics; it is just a company.

      • “We all saw Starbucks initial reaction”? Seriously, I just realized your not even in the country! You must have some incredible teleport skills to have seen this.

        • Reneg, you seem very invested in defending Starbucks, hysteric even.

          I was there that day. I saw it with my own eyes. Reneg, why are you so insistent on persuading people who were there that what they saw was not what happened. Do you live in an alternate universe. Level up.

  3. This article is simply wrong wrong wrong. After Starbucks locked doors to protesters that were being gassed (while neighboring bushinesses like like the luxury Divan Hotel hosted them) people at the square “occupied” starbucks. (granted, not the classiest thing to do but….) There was no help whatsoever provided from Starbucks. The Gezi solidarity platform has even listed starbucks on its boycott list (as far as I know, it was the only international company on the list and it’s name appears along companies owned by members of the government, those whose staff beat protesters, or those that were mouthpieces of the government). This has been a PR disaster for Starbucks.

    Starbucks in the central business district were boycotted and people were booed by investment bankers and executives for patronizing the company. I would love to know who provided the totally distorted piece of facts for this article. Misatakes happen in articles, and it’s normal to not be able to report from half way around the world. But, a “correction” or “restatement” at minimum is required for this.

    And I would love to know how much Starbucks income has dipped in the third quarter as a result of this — but I guess we’ll never know because the Kuwaiti owner of the franchise in Turkey is not publicly listed.

    And yes, I was there.

    • Sir, eventhough it is true that there were atleast one or two being ‘occupied’, SB. gave a great amount of help and if you do not know that, then you were not there. Not only did they help, but were slapped in the face for it with the attacks, destroyed stores and scaring customers. I do support Gezi and the people harmed, but I do not support people who still continue to spread lies and have no understanding of the chaos of the situation when it all broke loose. People need to spread more grace in this world and really not say anything unless they really, really know and you sir, do not. Plus, geez, this is so old, the continuation of hating on certain people and places; Starbucks has nothing to do with what Erdogan did – spend your time more wisely picking on the correct people/ person. Wow, i think this should be my last post about this article, it is annoying to see the lack of research and commen sense by people and it is beating a dead horse. Have a nice day.

      • You’ve gotta be kidding me? You guys helped? I don’t know who you are, or who’s paying you, but it’s simply not true what you say. I am probably in the top 0.5pct of starbucks customers the world over (and have been long before the company ever entered the Turkish market), but when an article like this pops up when I research the Shaya Group investments in Turkey, I can’t help but get my feathers rowled. You spoke with people there? How did they help? What exactly did they do? I mean common’. It’s a slap in the face for Starbucks to earn PR points saying they were helping protesters. I get it that some junior person closed the door. I can get the fact that starbucks closed their gates in the vacinity (I may have done the same if I had a business there) but for the author of the article to say starbucks helped protesters is just, well, wrong and in bad taste. And, that makes me angry.

        • Well, I can’t believe I am typing again, but it gets my feathers ruffled when people said they did not. Did they open a triage unit, no, it is a coffee shop. From the first hour of the hullabaloo, they were doing as some many other wonderful people were doing; free coffee, water, milk for the eyes and lemon. The workers at that particular Starbucks were staying at work until 3 and 4 in the morning, voluntarily. They had gas masks themselves and had to worry about protesters as well as police. And, no, I am not getting paid, but am friends with someone who was caught in the crossfire and very hurt by it, which makes me hurt for them. I was on my way to Taksim that day at around 3 o’clock and was running late because of my child’s whining at the pazar, so chose to skip the trip for the day, right when I started to get the first news of the protest and the Starbucks news and many more photos and conversations to come about the help they were giving and the concern for the workers and the complete disbelief how social media could control a situation like a wildfire out of control. There was plenty of thank you’s and positive things written also abouy Star

          • *also about Starbucks, but was greatly overshadowed by the wildfire already started. I am not saying they were heroes and should be given some medal, but they did nothing wrong and really did try to help as so many others also did. It was a very difficult time and emotions were on high for everyone, but most of my friends were out there at the heart of the protests and drinking their Starbucks at the same time, because they also know what was really happening. I do not know what else to say, but go and investigate and research, go to the Taksim Starbucks.

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