The coffee shop giant Starbucks has pledged to stop charging extra for dairy-free milk in each of its 1,020 UK Stores. This decision comes after a clever campaign highlighting the racial injustice of such a surcharge joining the traditional animal or environmental based campaigns that have been pressuring the company for many years.

In a press release sent on 28th December 2021, Starbucks announced that from 5th January 2022, it will no longer charge extra for any of its dairy alternatives offered in its UK stores, as part of its wider ambition to become a resource positive company and work to migrate to a more environmentally friendly menu. However, a few weeks earlier they denied this change in a response to a spoof campaign run by Switch4Good, in which a pretend organisation called Starbucks Cares stated that the coffee shop had decided to drop the extra charge.

In this campaign, the organization claimed Starbucks was ditching the upcharge due to the prevalence of lactose intolerance among Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. It used the argument that 95% of Asians, up to 80% of Black and Latinx people, and more than 80% of Indigenous Americans cannot digest dairy. Therefore, making them pay extra for a dairy alternative is an act of racial injustice.

This may be one of the first well-documented cases in the UK of the successful outcome of adopting an intersectional approach in vegan campaigning. By adding social justice arguments to the environmental and animal rights arguments, it seems that Starbucks finally folded to the pressure.  

Compared with other global coffee chains, Starbucks might have outdone many of its competitors in terms of vegan-friendliness. It currently provides five plant milk (oat, soy, almond, coconut, and its exclusive Starbucks Original Nut Blend), and is bringing out its first plant-based fish alternative. However, the fact they were charging more for dairy alternatives was a dark stain on their reputation and made them the target of animal rights groups such as PETA.  It seems that the recent intersectional twist in the campaign shook the company enough so they finally capitulated — although, naturally, they would not admit that. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.