Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz on Wednesday defended the company’s decision to support marriage equality, and told investors that if they weren’t on board, they could sell their stock and go elsewhere.
Last year, the Seattle-based company announced its support for legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, prompting opponents of the measure — notably the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage — to launch a boycott of Starbucks.
At the company’s annual meeting Wednesday, shareholder Tom Strobhar described Starbucks’ first-quarter performance as disappointing, and suggested that was due in part to the boycott.
“In the first fill quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earrings — shall we say politely — were a bit disappointing,” Strobhar said.
“If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much,” he said, to loud applause from the audience.
He said the company had delivered a healthy return last year, regardless of the boycott.
For 2012, Starbucks delivered a 14 percent increase in net revenues over the prior year, reaching a record $13.3 billion. The company returned approximately $1.1 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividend payments.
In February, Starbucks joined nearly 300 other companies in filing a brief calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples.